By Jonathan Evans
Newly hired England Rugby head coach Eddie Jones has declared that just like predecessor Stuart Lancaster he will not select players based outside of the UK.
The pool of talent playing overseas especially in France is excellent, with the latest two winners of the European Player of the Year award Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon chief among them.
The argument for sticking with the Lancaster policy is that England players should be playing in England, as that will serve to improve the domestic game. “If you take that away and allow players to go anywhere in the world and still get picked for England, then I think it would be hugely damaging to the Premiership,” said Leicester Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill.
Certainly if many England representatives were to move overseas it would damage the competition, but that could allow a new breed of young England hopefuls to come through.
Even if the policy is changed it is not a certainty that a large amount of England’s players would move away from the Aviva Premiership. The widespread fear that they will do so is a sign of its own that the tournament is already diminished compared to the French Top 14.
It is clear that playing in France can improve a player, as in the case of both Armitage and Abendanon. They went from on the fringes or not even a part of the national side to among the best on the continent. Yet they cannot play for their country.
If England want to be the best team they can be they must pick the best players, regardless of which country they play in. In recent times Australia have reversed a similar policy of theirs so they could select foreign-based players for the 2015 World Cup. They were rewarded handsomely as they reached the final, in stark contrast to England’s abject group stage exit.
England remain only the second international side to only select domestically based players, the other being World Champions New Zealand.
In terms of Jones himself not only could a change in policy help his side it would also enable him to distance himself from the prior, ultimately failed, regime of Stuart Lancaster.
He has much to ponder as he moulds his own version of England, but as long as he refuses to pick outstanding English players based in France this question will remain a constant.