Players Set for Legal Fight over RFU's French Threat; Union Boss Hopley Says Twickenham Chief's Plan to Penalise England Stars Who Move Abroad May Be a Restraint of Trade. by Chris Jones

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Jones

ENGLAND'S players' union are taking legal advice over a letter sent by the Rugby Football Union telling top stars they could be jeopardising their international places by moving abroad.

RFU chief executive Francis Baron warned in the note that crossing the Channel and playing domestic rugby in France could seriously hinder their futures.

The move has been prompted by the decision of London Wasps trio James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Riki Flutey to move to French clubs next season, sparking fears of a player drain to their Top-14 competition.

French clubs are not restricted by a wage cap which hampers English Premiership outfits in their attempts to increase wages.

In the four-page letter, Baron says that players must have all international release periods written into their French contracts and, most significantly, made it clear that if England team manager Martin Johnson was faced with a close selectorial choice between two players -- one playing in France and the other at home -- the Premiership player would almost certainly get the vote.

But the chief executive of the Professional Rugby Players' Association, Damien Hopley, said: "We are taking legal advice. The concern is that this becomes a restraint of trade." Although the letter states any player moving abroad will not be "banned" from the England squad, it makes it clear they could jeopardise their places. It has also been made clear that Johnson and his coaching staff will not be travelling to watch players in the French league. …