England players’ welfare is at the heart of the RFU’s expanded ‘hybrid’ contract plan | Rugby Football Union

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has stressed the importance of improving its “all-round support” for England international players after Owen Farrell chose not to be available and issued a stark warning that other players are likely to do so example will follow.

Outlining details of the extended ‘hybrid’ contracts to be offered to up to 25 players as part of the RFU’s efforts to revitalize professional rugby in England next season, performance director Conor O’Shea revealed that the Union is exploring options to achieve this by being “best in class” when it comes to supporting its players.

Farrell has ruled himself out of taking part in next year’s Six Nations, citing his and his family’s mental wellbeing and it remains to be seen whether he will play for his country again. Following this sensational announcement, Kyle Sinckler predicted more England internationals would follow, adding: “I just think that the support for the players in general, if I’m being blunt and brutally honest, could be a lot better.” The support system could be 100% (better), from anywhere.”

Farrell is still expected to be offered one of the hybrid contracts starting next season, which will strengthen Steve Borthwick’s control over a core group of 25 players. Their club contracts are supplemented by a fixed fee of around £160,000 per player from the RFU, which allows the England coach to have more influence over things such as medical and conditioning programs.

The 25 players form an “extended elite player squad” and their individual development plans are reviewed monthly. O’Shea said: “We just want to support (Owen) and are constantly looking to improve the all-round care of the players. “That’s the most important thing. Some of these environments are becoming increasingly difficult and sensitive to operate in. So we have to look at that very carefully to make sure we are the best in class in that regard.”

The expanded contracts are the key aspect of the new Professional Games Partnership (PGP) between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, which is due to be finalized in the new year before coming into effect next summer.

Players are being offered extended contracts ranging from one to three years and while Henry Arundell dealt a blow to the flagship program by rejecting an offer to extend his stay at Racing 92, Maro Itoje and Jamie George are expected to become the first English ones To be senior international players must register.

Kyle Sinckler has warned more players may be retiring from international rugby. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

O’Shea stressed that an extended contract was no guarantee of England selection. The players, for their part, previously had the potential to earn more from the £23,000 England match fees – provided they were fit and an ever-present for the national team – but crucially the improved contracts provide security in the event of injury.

The 25-man group will be part of a larger elite squad of 50 players – those without extended contracts will continue to receive one-off match fees when playing for England – while there will also be a 35-man ‘A’ squad made up of at the lower end of the broader EPS and graduates under 20 years old. England A play Portugal in next year’s Six Nations and the intention is to resume regular games for the team formerly known as the Saxons.

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A revamped second division in place of the Championship is also an important part of the PGP. The RFU wants a revamped league with up to 14 teams, allowing for the return of Wasps, London Irish and Worcester, and is expected to launch a tender process early next year.

Current Championship clubs are invited to register their interest but have reservations about the amount of funding they would receive, the promotion and relegation mechanism to the Premiership and the possibility of fast-tracking three bankrupt clubs back to the second tier.

“What we have said is that we believe it should be an expression of interest, open to everyone, to make it the best and most sustainable league with the best teams,” O’Shea said. “(The Championship clubs) say that if there are additional teams, they should come from the National Leagues first behind the post and second behind the post. We said we’ll wait, get the report back and then decide what’s best for the game.”

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