Eddie Jones has issued a public warning to George Ford, insisting that a high-profile switch to France would curtail his England career. The talented fly-half could be set to depart Bath over the next two years and it has been mooted that he may be in line for a future reunion with father and former boss Mike, who had been in charge of Toulon's backs since the summer before being promoted to the role of head coach by president Mourad Boudjellal last week following the dismissal of Diego Dominguez.
And while such a move would potentially expand Ford's horizons, it would also spell the end of his time as an England regular before he has even reached his mid-20s. This is because, back in 2010, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) announced their intention to only consider domestic-based players for international duty following the 2011 World Cup except in exceptional circumstances.
That rule, introduced with the key aim of protecting the high standard of the Aviva Premiership in light of the lucrative riches on offer in France's Top 14, has been strictly enforced and culminated in Pau's Steffon Armitage, who established himself as one of the world's top back-row forwards during his own five-year stint with Toulon, and Clermont Auvergne's 2015 European Player of the Year Nick Abendanon being omitted from Stuart Lancaster's squad for last year's World Cup on home soil.
The policy typically causes no shortage of controversy around major tournaments, but Jones has voiced his continued support for the RFU's firm stance and insists that it "protects English rugby for the long term".
"I need to talk to George about it," he was quoted as saying by Sky Sports at England's latest pre-autumn international training camp in Portugal. "Obviously we don't want to lose George, but ultimately he's got to make a decision about whether he wants to play for England. He's responsible for his own decision. We want him to play for England. He knows that we want him to play for England, but he's got to want to play for England. It's an easy choice – you either sign for an English club or you sign for a French club. If you sign for a French club, you don't play for England.
"I am not worried about it. I want players who want to play for England and to play for England, you've got to play for an English club. Let's get one thing straight here, we want to be the No 1 team in the world. To be the No 1 team in the world we need players who absolutely desire to play for England. So there's no choice here."
Jones, whose vastly improved but injury-hit side welcome South Africa to Twickenham on 12 November before further home Tests against Fiji, Argentina and Australia, then claimed that the Top 14's expansive and escalating influx of foreign talent over recent years had caused "massive problems" for France's national game.