Owen Farrell

Playing for England is ‘no longer the pinnacle’ and English rugby must change – Will Carling

Owen FarrellFarrell has continued playing for Saracens since announcing he would step back from England duty

English rugby needs to ask itself “serious questions” because playing for England is “no longer the pinnacle”, says former captain Will Carling.

Captain Owen Farrell has been linked with a move to Racing 92 while wing Henry Arundell has already signed an extension with the French club.

Rugby Football Union (RFU) rules do not allow players based abroad to be selected for England.

“Playing for your country needs to still be the pinnacle,” Carling said.

“It needs to be something that players love doing.

“Let’s be honest – that’s obviously not the case at the moment.”

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Farrell, England’s record points scorer, announced last year he is taking a break from international duty “in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing”, ruling him out of the 2024 Six Nations regardless of any move.

Reports in France have linked the 32-year-old with a switch although Racing have denied having an agreement is in place.

Arundell, who scored five tries on his World Cup debut against Chile in September, originally joined Racing after London Irish’s bankruptcy but an extension signed in December makes him ineligible for England.

Flanker Jack Willis and centre Joe Marchant are others from England’s 2023 World Cup squad to have signed deals in France.

“The lure of playing England for me was incredible, so you’ve got to ask some very serious questions and I think people in the right positions need to ask ‘why are people walking away from playing for their country?’,” Carling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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“There’s a guy [Farrell] who has given incredible service to England – and to Saracens – and if that’s his choice then you respect it hugely.

“It’s the youngsters that worry me. Owen’s had a great, great career so if that’s how he wants to end it then I think we all respect that.

“It’s some of the others who are going – who have careers ahead of them – that worry me.”

The intention of the RFU rule to not allow players based abroad to be selected for England is to protect the quality of the English league by ensuring the best English players play in it, and give the RFU more control and better access to England or potential England players.

Last year, coach Steve Borthwick called for a rethink on the policy.

Many clubs in the English Premiership are restricted financially – Wasps followed Worcester into administration in October 2022 – and as a result players can earn more money playing overseas.

Carling said administrators “have to make English rugby the pinnacle again”.

“We should be having a game here that is attracting the best talent – English and foreign – and I think that therefore we need to look at the running of the game,” he said.

“Let’s be honest – it hasn’t been good for a long, long period of time.

“It’s allowed the game to fall into the situation which it is now. We need to turn our mindset around and build a game which inspires youngsters.”

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