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Simon Austin | 16:35 UK time, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

James Haskell has the self-confident air of someone who expects things to always turn out his way in the end.

And who can blame him? The Wasps flanker is young and good looking, his girlfriend Felicia Field-Hall was a finalist in FHM's "High Street Honeys" competition and, oh yes, he is one of England's finest young rugby players.

Last February, at a time when Haskell had won only five caps, Will Greenwood said the back rower should be given the England captaincy. "Right now he is England's youngest, most dynamic, game-changing player," the World Cup-winner reasoned.

Yet the 23-year-old now seems to have boxed himself into something of a corner by signing a pre-contract agreement with Stade Francais.

If Haskell was in any doubt about the possible effect this might have on his place in the England team, he isn't now.

He was dropped for the game against France last weekend and his replacement Tom Croft gave a Man-of-the-Match performance in England's best performance under manager Martin Johnson, so it is hardly a surprise that Haskell is again on the bench for England's Six Nations denouement against Scotland on Saturday.

James Haskell

While moving to France wasn't necessarily the reason for Haskell's omission, it certainly didn't help his cause.

Last week a letter signed by RFU chief executive Francis Baron was sent to each member of Martin Johnson's elite squad.

It made it clear that players moving abroad should, at least, make sure they had the same release dates in their contracts as players plying their trade in England. Otherwise their international prospects would be jeopardised.

It also stated that neither Johnson nor his coaching staff would be able to scout foreign club matches.

And players have been told verbally that if they move abroad and are vying for a place with an English-based player of the same ability, they will not be selected for England.

Haskell already had an idea about what was coming after discussing the issue at length with Baron at the official dinner after England's defeat against Ireland.
And he is now, unsurprisingly, reconsidering his move to Stade.

If he wants to back out, he is likely to have to pay money to the French side because he has signed a pre-contract agreement with them and, despite his undoubted ability, he could potentially find it difficult to find a place at a top club in England.

Most of the Guinness Premiership sides have already settled on their lineups for next season. Even last month, players' union chief Damian Hopley said "most recruitment in the Guinness Premiership has already been finalised" when he was discussing Saracens' decision to release 12 players.

Riki Flutey, who has agreed a move to Brive at the end of the season, has continued to be picked at inside centre by England, because of his outstanding recent performances for his country and the lack of alternatives in his position.

The other member of the Wasps and England trio to be crossing the channel, Tom Palmer, has not got a look in because Steve Borthwick, Simon Shaw and Nick Kennedy are ahead of him in the second-row pecking order.

There was news of another big-name player crossing the Channel this week, but it was in the opposite direction to Haskell, Palmer and Flutey.

Ben Cohen will move from Brive to Sale at the end of the season and is looking forward to trying to resurrect his England career.

His team-mate at the French side, the World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson, is also a little frustrated at continually being overlooked for selection in the England squad, while flanker Magnus Lund seems to have been virtually forgotten since moving to Biarritz.

And Newcastle director of rugby Steve Bates today said he assumed Jonny Wilkinson will still be at the club next season, despite interest from French sides.
Could the RFU now be winning its battle against a French exodus?

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