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Jack Willis hopes new Toulouse deal won’t impact England’s post-World Cup future

The 26-year-old is set to finalize his club status for next season and is expected to stay in France with the decorated Toulouse side.

Willis impressed during England’s Six Nations campaign, working his way to the front of new head coach Steve Borthwick’s plans. The former Wasps flanker is currently on a special England away dispensation, but that short-term deal expires after the World Cup.

England’s policy of refusing to select foreign-based players, except in exceptional circumstances, has however come under renewed pressure following a spate of departures to French clubs.

Head coach Borthwick has even admitted he wants to be able to select his best players without restrictions, and the RFU will continue to look at ways to move forward on an increasingly thorny issue.

Willis hopes England can find a way around the problem and hailed Red Rose staff for establishing a relationship with Toulouse that has seen them feature regularly in the Six Nations.

“I think Steve Borthwick coming out and supporting this just shows that there are a lot of people behind the scenes working to try and find the right solution for English rugby to move forward,” Willis told the Evening Standard Rugby Podcast.

“I think there are a lot of avenues to explore, but what’s positive for me is that it looks like I hope it’s on the table, and at least being discussed, and we will see.

“Steve has been fantastic throughout this Six Nations with me on many levels, the support and working with Toulouse. Toulouse has also been brilliant and has shown how smooth this process can be.

“There were a lot of conversations about what would be best for me, what would be best for me to be involved with England, how can we help with Toulouse if they needed me for the weekend.

“It was great to see how this relationship worked out, and I’m grateful to the guys from Toulouse, as well as Steve and Richard Hill for how hard they worked to make it happen for me.”

England and Exeter stars Luke Cowan Dickie, Sam Simmonds and Harry Williams are moving to Montpellier next season which would currently reduce their post-World Cup Test attendance.

Harlequins center Joe Marchant is heading to Stade Français, while Northampton test lock David Ribbans will join Toulon.

Willis has his plans in place and just wants to tick a few final boxes before fully ratifying what should be a new deal to stay at Toulouse. He was forced to find a club when Wasps went bankrupt in September, and he believes the precarious financial situation of English rugby clubs should lead to a relaxation of those overseas selection rules.

“I’ve made my decision, I need to finalize the last two things over the next two weeks and make sure my whole family is on board,” Willis said.

“Wherever we end up, you want to make sure you’ve considered all possible factors. There’s still a bit of thinking to do, but we’re almost there. I’ve absolutely loved my time here and Toulouse has been so welcoming.”

The flanker is desperate to avoid the upheaval that has endured at Wasps

/ Getty Images

Asked if he hoped England’s eligibility rule would change, Willis continued: “Yes, and I think the reason I would say it’s not just for me.

“You look at the salary cap, where it’s headed, where it’s headed, how tight it is and how many players have been pushed out of their jobs. Then you look at Wasps and Worcester, they didn’t have financially stable models.

“I think something that’s a factor for me is the financial stability of this club, because I can’t tell you how difficult it has been to get through what we’ve been through. We were training for about three hours before that. ‘we were told for the first time that we were going to enter the administration.

“We arrived on Monday and a stranger told you that you had lost your job and that you wouldn’t be playing together again, not even for a minute, with some of your best friends that you grew up with, and with my brother. That leaves a scar.

Willis’ brother Tom has secured a transfer to Bordeaux after the Wasps implosion, and the 24-year-old no8 will join Saracens next summer. The Willis siblings are missing their daily catch-ups, but Jack revealed he enlisted Tom’s help during a move to France later this week.

“It was weird, Tom and I used to spend a lot of time together, every day at the club, but he would pop into mine for a cup of tea every day after practice,” Willis said.

“To go from that to two and a half hours apart, it’s very strange. But we see each other regularly. I brought him down on Wednesday to help me move, and I’m going to load him with all the heavy stuff!

“I really missed him, and that was one of the hardest things about the Wasps storyline.

“I’m incredibly excited about what the future holds for him at Saracens. I know the Saracens guys in the England squad and they will be very good at pushing him to be the best player he can be.

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