England poaching may backfire: O'Neill - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

England poaching may backfire: O'Neill

By Darren Walton 28/06/2008 12:32:40 PM Comments (0)

ARU supremo John O'Neill says it will actually be England's problem - not Australia's - if the old enemy persists in luring Wallabies and All Blacks to English premiership rugby on big-money contracts.

While O'Neill insists the ARU is doing everything it can to prevent a player drain to cashed-up club sides in Europe, particularly the UK and France, he predicts England may well be the big losers in the long-term.

O'Neill pointed to the failure of England's national soccer team to qualify for Euro 2008 as evidence of the dangers in swelling the domestic ranks with international imports.

"I was interested the other day to read a statistic that said the English Premier League - soccer - that 38 per cent of players were English. The other 62 per cent were foreign and you wonder whether that's been good for English soccer," O'Neill said.

"Equally, when you move into the rugby sphere and see what's happening in English rugby and French rugby where they're throwing money at foreign players, I think they've got to actually rethink the actual long-term benefit of that strategy in terms of what it does to their national team."

O'Neill offered the food for thought after the ARU's announcement on Thursday that it had granted Rocky Elsom an early release from his contract on unspecified "compassionate grounds" so that the 25-year-old Test flanker could link with Irish club Leinster on an "open-ended" deal.

In addition to Elsom's departure after this year's Tri Nations tournament, his NSW Waratahs and Wallabies team-mate Dan Vickerman is also bound for UK riches, further depleting Australia's forward stocks.

O'Neill, though, said he was well aware marquee players were increasingly being confronted with making the choice between national loyalty and the loot - and that the ARU was intent on preventing an exodus of stars.

"That's one of the reasons why we're working very hard to expand Super rugby, to expand our product offerings - to create far more critical mass to ensure that southern hemisphere rugby creates a significant counter balance to what's happening in Europe, the UK and France in particular," he said.

"Players inevitably will be attracted by money. I'm sure (Wallabies hooker) Adam Freier's had an offer to go overseas as well and has decided to stay with us.

"We're not losing a lot of players at all, really."

Not yet, anyway.

"That's why we're not sitting on our hands," O'Neill said.

"I mean, we're all about maintaining the strength and the success rate of the Wallabies.

"We believe sitting here today that our players are well paid and receive very attractive remuneration.

"What we're hoping to do in years to come is to make sure that we remain extremely competitive as a market such that, when offers do arrive from Europe and the UK, that we're in the money."

O'Neill insisted Elsom was a one-off case and that the ARU would not be releasing players willy-nilly to pursue the big bucks on offer offshore, a stance endorsed by Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock.

"Fundamentally, you want to see the best players stay in Australia and talent and depth hopefully will help Australian rugby to being a powerhouse in world rugby," Mortlock said.

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