From One Premiership to Another: The Migration of the Foreign Player

No doubt that after England’s “lucky” midweek draw; as Mr. Capello himself described it, at least one commentator will have raised the issue that constantly seems to haunt English football. Where is all the young English talent in the Barclays Premiership? The answer is seemingly simple for many followers of the game, kept out of Premiership starting XI’s by foreign players. Thus the post-mortem that follows like clockwork after every World Cup for England raised the issue of foreign player quotas in the Premiership and youth development, but the cries for change have for now, fallen on deaf ears.

Yet the most worrying aspect of the situation for English Rugby is the fact that the Aviva Premiership seems to be following the Barclays Premiership to the same exotic destination, one full of foreign players. The figure given by Premier Rugby is that 65 percent of players playing in the Aviva Premiership are English, yet a glance at the English clubs does little to settle ones nerves. At Saracens the influx of Shalk Brits, Jaques Burger and Ernst Joubert brought in under South African Director of Rugby Brendan Venter has caused the most discomfort among rugby fans. Yet it is young hopes for the future who have suffered the most. Twenty-two year old Noah Cato who had promised to break into the England set up has struggled to get into the 23 man match day squads, mainly due to the Fijian pairing of Kameli Ratuvou and Micheal Tagicakibau. It is not however just Saracens who have decided to recruit from abroad, Leicester’s front row capabilities in Marcus Ayerza, Martin Castrogiovanni and Boris Stankovich have often kept Dan Cole on the Leicester bench, one of England’s front row success stories. Bath have followed suit in the recruitment of their South African 8, 9 and 10 trio of Luke Watson, Michael Claassens and Butch James. Northampton have enlisted the services of Soane Tonga’uiha, Harlequins Nick Evans and Gloucester Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, to name but a few.

The problem caused by these foreign travellers is that many young players such as Noah Cato who could have been brought through the ranks into their clubs first XV; will not have been in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. An even bigger worry for rugby fans is that young players may never develop to their true potential if they are not given the opportunity to by their club. In the same vein players such as Dan Cole who have already established themselves at international level may not mature at the rate they could have; if they are deprived of regular starts by their club.

There is however a saving grace for young club rugby players, the need for strength in depth. Big squads are vital to a successful season in the Aviva Premiership due to the physicality of the game, the grueling fixture list and international call-ups. Some clubs may fair better than others with regard to injuries and the loss of international players, but it is then when young players must make their mark. Whether players are given a one match or one month window of opportunity, this is when they must put out their stall and show that they are as good as their foreign counterparts.

It is for this reason that no quota or cap on foreign players is needed. Any player who is good enough will get their chance; the problem is that it may take longer for them to get the break they need than it would have if only 5 foreign players were allowed in a match day 23. As a result it may also take longer to develop, yet the positives of playing with foreign players should not be overlooked. Young academy players will gain invaluable experience playing alongside their foreign colleagues, many who will have brought a wealth of knowledge and experience from leagues such as the Super 14 (now the Super 15), the Magners League and the French Top 14. The varied playing styles and tactics used in different leagues around the world should be harnessed through clubs foreign contingencies to aid and develop young academy players.

It is clear that the Aviva Premiership; despite the recent influx of foreign players is not in the same situation as its round ball counterpart. The figure of 65 percent English players within the Premiership has remained constant and the likes of Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs breaking into the national side show that English clubs are still bringing through talented young players. Yet there are warning signs that if English clubs do not keep focused on developing youngsters through their academies and instead opt for foreign imports then the English Rose may suffer the same plight as the Three Lions.

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