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�English� Premiership vital says Andrew

28 August 2008

August 28, 2008

ROB ANDREW today insisted developing English qualified players in the Guinness Premiership was critical to the success of club and country.

The Rugby Football Union's Elite Rugby Director explained that the current Guinness Premiership squads averaged 65 per cent English and 35 per cent overseas players.

"We need to keep it like that," said Andrew at today's media briefing. "If that started to fall then we would be in trouble. 

"We don't have an issue with high quality foreign players - what we don't want is run of the mill foreign players standing in the way of up and coming England players."

In saluting the new eight-year agreement with the Guinness Premiership clubs - effective from July 1 - Andrew said: "I feel clubs are swinging the way of English qualified players and that they are signing fewer but better quality overseas players. Two years ago Harlequins were 11th in the table of English qualified players, now they are up to third.

"Those clubs with a core of young English players will be successful and you have seen that very much with Leicester Tigers and London Wasps.

"The new agreement with the clubs provides a financial incentive (from 2009-10) for using English qualified players. Over the course of a season if 14 of a match 22 are English qualified then clubs receive an amount per player. If they have more than 14 then the amount per player goes up."

Stuart Lancaster, the RFU's Head of Elite Player Development, added that the dual registration of club academy players so that they could have regular rugby in National League One was a major step forward.

"The only way you can judge players is by seeing them play regularly," he said.

"So, for instance, Joe Simpson the England Under 20s scrum half at London Wasps is behind Mark Robinson and Eoin Reddin, but he will be playing at Esher this season."

The appointment of Lancaster, along with Nigel Redman (Elite Coach Development Manager) and Ed Morrison (Head of Elite Referee Development), is part of a restructured Elite Rugby Department.

"I think we have done a very good job over the last two years in putting the foundation of a world class performance structure in place," said Andrew. "It's now about delivering on that."

Within that is the Sports Science section headed by Roy Headey with an annual spend of �2.3m and the Elite Referee Unit run by Morrison, which will this season have two full time trainee referees in JP Doyle and Greg Garner.

"From Monday we will have seven full time referees, which is the highest number of any country in the world. If JP and Greg break through the aim is to try and introduce them to the Guinness Premiership this season," said Morrison.

Regarding the Experimental Law Variations being implemented this season, Morrison added: "The Elite Referee Unit have made 26 visits to Guinness Premiership clubs this summer to try and smooth the transition to these new laws."

RFU Disciplinary Officer, His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett, meanwhile is hoping to continue the downward trend in foul play saying: "Last year there were 318 yellow cards and 51 red cards and citings in the Guinness Premiership and National Leagues compared to 463 and 74 espectively the year before.

"I believe the game is cleaner than it has been before and players understand that they can not get away with much," said Blackett.

The focus of the disciplinary process this season will be dangerous play and there will be �zero tolerance' to people illegally clearing out opponents not involved in rucks and mauls.

Blackett added that there was a concern about the behaviour of some parents at youth level.

"We have produced a code of conduct, a set of dos and don'ts for handing out to parents and the Ethos and Culture Task Group is looking at this subject," said Blackett.

"There are apocryphal stories which say an expansion of numbers has seen more parents who haven't played rugby themselves and are not aware of the culture of the game.  We have got to keep working to make sure that culture is not lost."