Backlash from fans over RFU’s potential U-turn on England not picking overseas-based players

A backlash from fans has followed the recent refusal by Rugby Football Union chief Bill Sweeney to rule out the possibility of England picking overseas players in the wake of Saracens’ relegation.

The reigning Gallagher Premiership champions were automatically relegated on Saturday for breaching the salary cap, which may result in an exodus of players – either permanently or on loan – who want to continue playing in Europe’s premier competitions next season. 

While nothing has been confirmed yet, this may result in players moving to French clubs, partly due to the higher wages than Premiership clubs, but also to avoid moving to rival teams in England. 

The RFU announced in 2010 that any overseas player after the 2011 World Cup would not be selected for England unless there were “exceptional circumstances”. 

Since then, England have missed out on the chance of picking players such as Clermont’s Nick Abendanon and former Toulon loose forward Steffon Armitage, both of whom were named the European player of the year during their time in France. 

However, “exceptional circumstances” is rather vague, which does open the door to picking Saracens players in the event of them moving abroad. This is not necessarily just to France, as some players have been rumoured to be moving further afield. 

But many people on social media have objected to this announcement, believing it is unfair on those players over the past decade who have missed out on representing their country. 

While those players did know the ruling when they moved to France, it is even more unfair on those that have opted to remain in England to further their international career. 

Manu Tuilagi is just one player that has been mentioned, as he rejected a potentially lucrative move to the Top 14’s Racing 92 last year in order to remain eligible for England. 

Some people have even suggested this may have legal ramifications, as those formerly overlooked players may take action against the RFU for being unfairly treated. 

This very situation that the current Saracens players find themselves in may justifiably be what the RFU deems to be exceptional circumstances, particularly if they only move on loan for a season and are set to return to Saracens. 

Of course, no player has announced such a move yet. But as these are unprecedented circumstances, the RFU and Premiership Rugby may need to encounter each new problem when it arises. 

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