“Come back home to the motherland, or lose your chance to play for it.”
That was the gauntlet thrown down by the English Rugby Football Union to all of their players under professional contracts with non-England based teams around the world. Come home or lose your space on the national team.
Seems pretty cut and dried if you ask me, if they mean it.
One star seems determined to find out.
England’s former stud fly-half Jonny Wilkinson appears ready to call England’s bluff. He’s prepared to sign a renewed contact with French Top 14 pro team, Toulon – where he signed a year and a half ago.
Players who are lucky enough to play professionally in France are likely to make more money, with Top 14 teams rumored to have a salary cap approaching double what English professional teams have, 8 vs. 4 million pounds. But Wilkinson says it’s not about the money, it’s about living in the south of France (and can you really blame him?)
Wilkinson told the UK Telegraph, ““I am happy where I am, it fits the bill for me. I am enjoying the experience and I’m learning a hell of a lot. I can understand where they [the RFU] are coming from and what they’re saying. I’m just one player in this sort of situation.”
While not the starting fly-half for England anymore, Wilkinson had seen playing time coming off of the bench, and was recently surpassed by New Zealand’s Dan Carter for all-time points scorer.
Personal View: I understand why the English RFU wants to pull back all of their top players to England before the 2011 World Cup. In closer proximity they have more time to train together and become a stronger team. This is the same argument that I made when Georgia beat the U.S. recently. However, these players still have to take advantage of the opportunity provided by them from higher paying overseas teams. One way around this might be for the RFU to put its own money where its policies are, and compensate the players it forces back from overseas.