Sir Clive Woodward demands that ‘ridiculous’ England ruling is axed to ‘protect Test rugby’

Rugby World Cup-winning head coach Sir Clive Woodward believes that the Rugby Football Union (RFU) must allow foreign-based players to feature for the Red Rose.

Only Premiership players are currently eligible to be called up to Steve Borthwick’s team; this means that players like Jack Willis, Henry Arundell, and Sam Simmonds are not.

These regulations are in place to safeguard local competition, maintain teams’ competitiveness in Europe, and increase the league’s appeal to sponsors and supporters.

But since many of the clubs are having financial difficulties—as the collapse of the London Irish, Worcester Warriors, and Wasps shows—more and more talented English players are leaving the Premiership.

Henry Arundell situation

This includes Arundell, who signed a new two-year contract with Racing 92 instead of going back to England, which was a major setback for the RFU.

“If I had been head coach, the absurd RFU rule prohibiting players from representing England while playing for clubs overseas would not have been in place. Alternatively, I would have resigned if it had. In the Daily Mail, Woodward stated, “There are some things in rugby that should be sacrosanct and protected at all costs.”

“As the man in charge of the national team, you simply have to be able to pick the best players who qualify for England. That should be set in stone. Borthwick is the man in that position but he can’t do that right now.

“The mindset the foreign ruling protects the Premiership clubs and fosters a stronger national side is badly flawed. Three Premiership clubs have fallen into administration and England are nowhere near becoming the No 1 ranked side in the world.

“Arundell is the brightest young England player and for him to not be playing at Twickenham goes against the sheer fabric of international rugby.”

The RFU are attempting to stave off a further exodus by introducing ‘hybrid contracts’, which gives the clubs a financial reward for allowing England to have a greater control of their players.

However, Woodward is against the plan and thinks it shows signs of “panic” on the part of the governing body.

“The RFU plans to introduce new hybrid contracts for the top 25 players in the nation for the 2024–2025 season. The goal of the move is to prevent England’s finest players from leaving the country, but he stated, “I believe it reflects flawed thinking and the lack of a coordinated approach.”

“Central contracts, or any variation thereof, ought to be superfluous. They are a desperate response to the financial crisis facing the Premiership. They are surefire ways to go wrong.

“It is obvious that those who put them in place have never managed a successful sports team. It puts Borthwick in a very challenging situation.

Return of a great

Woodward’s criticism of the governing body does not stop there and the ex-England boss believes that they are reactive rather than proactive.

The 67-year-old’s idea is to reinstate a few players from the winning England team from 2003, with Martin Johnson, the team’s captain, at the top of the list.

“To commemorate the 20th anniversary of England’s 2003 World Cup victory, I threw a reunion last month. Some of the biggest personalities in rugby were present in the room; they are all intelligent, seasoned, really knowledgable, and deeply committed individuals, he recalled.

It caused me to reflect. Martin Johnson is not on the RFU board; why is that? Why don’t players like Matt Dawson and Will Greenwood participate in the game? The members of the RFU board, aside from Bill Sweeney, the chief executive, work in the background. What do they do and who are they?

“The RFU needs no-nonsense figures with rugby experience who will front up to the media, supporters and the

clubs on significant problems. Although there are many good people in the RFU, its top brass are reactive rather than proactive.

Owen Farrell’s decision to resign from England duty would not have occurred if the RFU had hired a player with Johnson’s level of rugby gravitas.

“Johnson would have stood in front of the public and the media and told them that it was not acceptable for England fans to jeer Farrell. He would have taken care of the issue right away.

“That was not the case. Instead, the RFU offered us the standard platitudes after the horse had run away, and as a result, English rugby will be without its captain and talisman for some time.

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