Northampton back-rower Lewis Ludlam has secured a deal to join Top 14 side Toulon next summer, becoming the latest England international to make the move to France.
Ludlam, a veteran of the last two World Cups and a key figure in Steve Borthwick’s Six Nations campaign, has been highly valued for his versatility and combativeness.
Despite Northampton’s desire to retain their club captain, Toulon’s offer of not only higher wages but also a longer-term contract played a crucial role in Ludlam’s decision.
This transfer marks a growing trend, with five members of England’s World Cup squad either playing or heading to France, reflecting the financial prowess of the Top 14 that English clubs struggle to match.
The planned introduction of hybrid contracts next year, intended to offer security to England players, seems to have done little to curb the exodus across the Channel.
Ludlam’s departure comes at a time when English clubs are grappling with the increased salary cap for the upcoming season, yet still finding it challenging to compete with the spending power of French counterparts.
Despite the anticipated benefits of hybrid contracts, details surrounding the new system remain scant, leaving players with expiring contracts, including Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Elliot Daly, and Henry Slade, uncertain about their future.
While Itoje could potentially benefit from the new contract model, other players are left in limbo, with lucrative offers from French clubs on the table.
Lewis Ludlam’s departure will undoubtedly impact both England and Northampton, as the talented back-rower, an academy product with over 100 appearances for the club, symbolises the heart and soul of the team at Franklin’s Gardens.
The evolving landscape of English players heading to France raises questions about the future composition of Borthwick’s squad at the onset of a new World Cup cycle. As the rugby English community awaits more clarity on the hybrid contract system, Ludlam’s move highlights the challenges English clubs face in retaining top talent amidst the allure of the Top 14.