Courtney Lawes reveals Wales-inspired plan to stop England from ‘hurting themselves’ with overseas policy

Colin Newboult
Courtney Lawes waving following England's bronze medal match at the 2023 Rugby World Cup

Courtney Lawes waving following England's bronze medal match at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

England legend Courtney Lawes has urged the Rugby Football Union to alter their overseas policy and allow their best players to venture abroad.

Currently, only those based in the Premiership are eligible for international duty as the governing body seeks to keep their domestic league strong and help head coach Steve Borthwick retain more control over his squad.

That has paid dividends in the past and warded off the French and Japanese clubs, who have the money to potentially raid the competition for its top talent.

More players now moving to France

However, due to the recent financial issues in England’s top-tier,  several Red Rose players have jumped ship to the financially lucrative Top 14.

Henry Arundell and Owen Farrell, who both featured at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, are among those who will be playing across the Channel next season having signed for Racing 92.

They will be joined by the likes of Lewis Ludlam, Kyle Sinckler and Manu Tuilagi, who are forgoing the chance of international rugby to pick up bigger pay packets in France’s domestic leagues.

Lawes, who recently signed for Brive in the ProD2 after retiring from England duty, believes that the RFU are only ‘hurting themselves’ by adhering to this strict policy and insists that the hierarchy need to rethink their strategy.

“We would lose some players, definitely, from the Prem, but it wouldn’t be as many as they think, I think,” he said. “It’s not like France haven’t got pretty good rugby players there, and ones from all round the world that they can bring over.

“I think they could change the rules. Whether they will or not is another question. I think they probably should, because players go to France and become better players, and then you’re losing that talent from the English game.

“Ultimately, if England are going well the grass-roots go well, and you’re bringing back in good players. It goes in a bit of a circle, but the main thing is you want England to go well and if your best players are playing abroad then you’re only hurting yourself.”

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There are countries like South Africa who have no restrictions on selection, which allows their best players to feature wherever.

Other nations, such as Wales, have certain conditions in place if individuals want to go abroad and Lawes believes that the RFU could implement a similar model.

“It’s a way of saying ‘if you want to go abroad, you can stay here, earn your stripes and then you can go and are still eligible’,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s a terrible idea. He [Dan Biggar] definitely became a better player for it, and as we’ve seen some of our players will become better players abroad. You’re wasting their talent if you’re not picking them.”

Player welfare

Another debate currently going on in England is the amount of games certain individuals have to play.

Maro Itoje is on course to break the limit of 30 full matches in a season and Lawes states that English rugby is lagging behind other countries in its care of the top players.

“You can’t go on like that, playing 30-plus games a year and have any kind of longevity,” he added. “Ireland have got a pretty good model, so let’s learn.

“As any business, and rugby is a business, you’ve got to learn lessons and from people doing it better elsewhere. I hope that the people at the top in England can do that.

“It always feels when you’re an England player you’re being pulled from pillar to post between club and country. You get the brunt of it.

“We’ve had six weeks off, but the boys have been in camp for eight weeks, so have got no leeway.

“A lot of those boys have had no time off and will have to come back in and play again for the rest of the season. There are no weeks where we can give them a rest, really.”

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