The news today that three high profile English rugby players are moving to France next season comes just a day after speculation Jonny Wilkinson may also be a target for the French clubs. If the three players in question (James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer) are being honest, they are moving to France not for the quality of rugby (which is good, but, I would suggest, only on a par with English rugby), but instead for the amount of cash they can earn playing there. French rugby, unlike in England, has no wage cap, which means the clubs can afford to pay as much as they can afford. Which therefore means they can attract better players to their clubs, players who are trying to earn enough money to help them when they retire at 35ish.
I can completely understand both sides of the coin here. The three players are trying to look out for their futures. That’s fine. The English leagues are trying to look out for the clubs and the fans alike. Which is also fine. The trouble is, the two cannot overlap, unless the wage cap that exists in England, exists worldwide too. Which is obviously never going to happen. The fear is that rugby will become more like football, with players moving to the highest bidders rather than playing for the love of the club or the sport. English rugby has tried to prevent this, which is why there is not the same level of investment in rugby as football, as teams and squads are limited by the cap, and there is nothing anyone can do to overcome this.
The downside is that high-profile players will become more and more keen to play abroad, where they can earn more money. The English leagues are slightly forcing the hands of players who need to earn as much as they can while they are still playing. There becomes little choice once you know a French club will pay you much more to play for them.
So what can the English RFU do? Not much I would suggest, other than hope that players brought through the ranks at English clubs show loyalty to their clubs. I would think though, that there is little hope of this being successful. Therefore, the only option which becomes available to them is to remove the wage cap and risk falling the same way as football has.