Departing Wasps loose forward James Haskell has insisted his lucrative move to play rugby in France will not jeopardise his England prospects.
The 23-year-old, who has signed with Stade Français, is one of three England players leaving Premiership champions Wasps at the end of the season to continue their club careers across in France’s Top 14.
His fellow forward Tom Palmer is also on his way to Paris-based Stade while New Zealand-born centre Riki Flutey will join Brive, who already have several England players in their ranks including current fly-half Andy Goode.
Stade announced later on Tuesday that both Haskell (who wears Adidas Rugby Boots) and Palmer would have three-year contracts.
French clubs, unlike their English counterparts, are not bound by any kind of domestic salary cap and with some reports suggesting Haskell and Flutey could treble their salaries, there are concerns more England players could be crossing the Channel.
Top 14 sides are also not a party to the eight-year international access deal agreed by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the 12 Premiership clubs, which allows England manager Martin Johnson extra time with his players in addition to the minimum required by International Rugby Board (IRB) rules.
But Haskell said the deal he’d agreed included guarantees he’d be just as available for England squad and training sessions as if he’d stayed with Wasps.
“The most important thing for me is playing for England. That is why I play rugby,” said the back-row forward, who won the last of his 14 caps in Saturday’s Six Nations loss away to Wales.
“Luckily with the contract with Stade Français all my release dates, all my EPS (elite player squad) contract is written into my agreement so there will be no excuses not to be involved.
“Some people will criticise me for going to France because they will say I am following the money. To be honest, that was the last of my considerations in going to France.
“Playing for England was my top priority and I would never have moved if I wasn’t able to do that. The reason I play rugby has always been to play for England.
“I am very lucky to have an opportunity to go and play for one of the best teams in France. They have some of the best players, let alone best back-row players, in the world who I can learn from.
“I spent a lot of my time at Wasps learning from players like Lawrence Dallaglio, Joe Worsley and Paul Volley and I hope this will be the same process in France, playing out of my comfort zone and in a really challenging league.”
Even if the English salary cap was removed, such is the present strength of the Euro and the readiness of several wealthy French club owners to bolster their squads, that playing in the Top 14 would still remain an attractive option for some Premiership players.
Wasps Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan, who will coach the British and Irish Lions in South Africa later this year, said on Tuesday: “The majority of the money is in France and we simply cannot compete. Some of the numbers are mind-boggling.
“The Premiership is the best club league in the world and it develops players and the ethos of this club will not change because we want our guys to play at the highest level.
“The majority of players see the bigger picture and I hope that players will join this club because of our track record of producing internationals.
“The concern must be that we will end up with players with an ambition to play for England not be part of the Guinness Premiership.
“That is not a good thing for England.”
Recently England world cup winning Fly half Jonny Wilkinson has also been strongly linked with a move to Paris Based club Racing Metro aswell as Gloucester and England fullback/wing Iain Balshaw to the same club.
What are your thoughts on the perceived power change from the Guinness Premiership to The Top 14 league in France
And whether the Euro will be to strong enough for players to turn down?