Question: who was the last player from a team north of Leicester to represent England? (answer at the end)
Before I start let me put my cards on the table. I was born in the south and for all but three years have lived here too. However, in those three years I was lucky enough to go to University in Manchester and even luckier enough to fall in love with a rugby team up there. I’m not biased, just worried!
The game, as I see it, stands at a crossroads. Do we let the north/south divide go and just play League in one part of the country and Union in the other or do we seriously back this game we love and let it flourish everywhere for everyone?
For if we let it keep going the way it is then the three main rugby union clubs in the north of England, Sale Sharks, Newcastle Falcons and Leeds Carnegie will will become nothing more than feeder clubs to their bigger, richer southern cousins. There is currently a player drain. The teams in the south cherry picking the best young English players to enrich their already talent laden squads.
This is not a new phenomena though. Lee Dickson, Phil Dowson, Toby Flood, Geoff Parling and Dave Wilson (Newcastle). Danny Care, Jordan Crane, Tom Palmer and Luther Burrell (Leeds). Ben Foden, Charlie Hodgson and Richard Wigglesworth (Sale). All players in or around the current England set up from the north who now ply their trade down south.
Take a look at the current England six Nations squad. Just one player representing a team north of Leicester, Henry Thomas of Sale Sharks. It’s not much better the layer below. In the current England Saxons squad, the so called next generation of talent only the Newcastle props Kieran Brookes and Scott Wilson and the Sale backs Rob Miller and Tom Brady represent northern teams.
In fact, the last four Sale players to represent the Saxons, Kearnan Myall, James Gaskell, Henry Thomas and Rob Miller will, by the start of next season, all be playing for new clubs…in the south!
Why is it happening? Is there a feeling in the game that if you’re not playing for one of the so called ‘big teams’ then your chances of playing for England are greatly reduced? There’s always money, of course. With teams such as Saracens and Wasps comes opportunities in the City of London after playing days are over. The chance to play with better players. If all the top talent are congregated at such few clubs then your game will surely improve playing with them. And with that must come a better chance of furthering your career at a higher level. You can see the attraction to the player.
Is there an answer? Success on the pitch would clearly help. The ability to show these young players that playing in a winning team will get them the recognition they desire. Sale have gone someway to address that this season but how can they ever really push on if, at the end of every season, they are having to replace three or four of its best young talent?
While this might be good for England going forward internationally, is it really what we want for the club game? Where’s the inspiration for clubs such as Newcastle and Sale to continue producing these players, if after five or six years of hard work and money in the development stage, they just up and leave when more money and brighter lights seduce them? Do we really want to see the same four or five teams continually fill the top spots of the Premiership table as they buy their way to more success?
Will there even be a rugby union team in the Premiership come ten years time? This southerners certainly hopes there is, as long as they are playing in blue!
Answer: Henry Thomas. He came on as a 75th minute replacement in England’s 51-26 win over Argentina last summer… Remind me again where he will be playing next season??