RFU and Premiership clubs close to agreeing new hybrid England deals

Star turn: players such as Maro Itoje could have their contracts altered if talks between the RFU and the Premiership clubs can be agreed ( )
Star turn: players such as Maro Itoje could have their contracts altered if talks between the RFU and the Premiership clubs can be agreed ( )

England and the Gallagher Premiership clubs are closing to striking a deal on hybrid contracts to revamp how top Test players are managed.

The RFU and the top-flight English clubs have been thrashing out terms on a new Professional Game Partnership agreement for months, with the current terms due to expire next summer.

And now one of the key agreements is understood to be a hybrid contract element for up to 20 top England stars.

The RFU are expected to pay Premiership clubs upwards of £30million per year for extended control over and access to a group of elite Test stars.

The set-up would move closer to that fostered by Ireland, the world's No1- ranked team. England cannot mirror Ireland's top-down set-up, as the IRFU have control of their full professional game, but the RFU and the Premiership clubs have for some time been determined to foster stronger relations. RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney had previously said "everything is on the table" for the new club and country agreement from his body's perspective.

This new partnership will still remain some way away from central contracts, but the extra control afforded to the RFU will be designed to help boost England's Test performance.

England boss Steve Borthwick should be given greater influence over the most crucial members of his squad, something that the head coach has been aiming to achieve since taking the helm in December.

Currently, Premiership clubs are paid £40,000 per player in England's 45-man Elite Player Squad (EPS). Under the new agreement England would still retain a wider EPS, but the 20-strong main nucleus will come in for greater RFU focus. That will allow Borthwick the ability to liaise far more closely with players' clubs about their conditioning regimes and wider development.

Borthwick's astute management of these areas, in terms of both detail and relationship building, will be key to the success of the enterprise. The former Leicester boss has impressed the clubs with his determination to foster closer links to the national set-up. And that, in turn, has already led to greater cooperation than at the tail-end of Eddie Jones's tenure, when links were fractured.

England stand to gain more time with more players, allowing for more potent and effective Test preparation. The clubs, meanwhile, will gain far more than just vital extra funds.

The standards Borthwick and head of conditioning Aled Walters have set rank among the best in the world, and that filtering through to club level will only improve Premiership standards.

In an era of financial uncertainty and with clubs battling for stability, the age of marquee signings from across the world is at an end. That means the league's quality level has to be set from within, through academy player development and coaching acumen.

But England's elite are now charged with providing the stardust, and these moves will allow for more of the Test methodology to permeate down.