Lewis Ludlam to join Toulon as England's talent drain to France continues

Lewis Ludlam to join Toulon as England's talent drain to France continues

Northampton back-row Lewis Ludlam will become the latest England international to head for France after agreeing terms to join Top 14 side Toulon next summer.

Ludlam has played in the last two World Cups for England and was an ever-present in Steve Borthwick’s first Six Nations campaign in charge. The 27-year-old is highly prized for his versatility and combativeness but was not assured of receiving one of the hybrid contracts set to be introduced next year by the Rugby Football Union. While Northampton were desperate to keep their club captain, Toulon not only offered high wages but a longer-term contract, which was thought to be crucial in Ludlam’s decision.

Five members of England’s 31-man World Cup squad are now playing or heading in France. Ludlam will join David Ribbans, the second row, at Toulon on the Cote D’Azur while centre Joe Marchant has joined Stade Francais. Flanker Jack Willis has signed a multi-year deal at Toulouse and Henry Arundell who is enjoying a sensational start at new club Racing 92.

Under the RFU’s rules, all players brd outside of England are ineligible for selection, although Arundell is expected to be granted an exemption for next year’s Six Nations after joining Racing following London Irish’s demise, as Willis was this year. Ludlam will also be available for selection for the remainder of the season, although he suffered an ankle injury in Northampton’s 36-33 victory against Harlequins on Friday night and left Franklin’s Gardens in a protective boot. Borthwick’s back-row options have already diminished since Courtney Lawes’ retirement, while Tom Curry suffered a season-ending hip injury and Ben Earl is out for two months.

Even with the Premiership salary cap set to increase next season, English clubs cannot match the spending power of the Top 14. The introduction of hybrid contracts from next year, where an estimated 25 England players would be guaranteed the security of a fixed sum for the year rather than relying on match fees, was supposed to stem that flow of talent over the Channel.

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