England rugby insiders have been left shocked by an emerging star’s decision to turn his back on Tests to play club footy in France instead.
Henry Arundell, who exploded onto the Test scene last year in Australia with a try on debut in Perth, and added five in one match at the World Cup, has opted to sign a contract extension with Racing 92 that will prevent him representing England until the end of 2026.
Last month news emerged of interest in the young winger from two NRL clubs – the Dolphns and Tigers.
Arundell’s agent said at the time: “Players of Henry’s calibre generate almost constant interest. Whilst we have had a couple of enquiries recently from NRL sides, these are not something Henry has entertained or considered in any way, and we were clear in our response.
“Any reports of a possible move to rugby league are false. Henry is excited for the remainder of the season with Racing – and hopefully with England.”
Arundell joined Racing 92 after the financial collapse of London Irish. He would have been given clearance to play for England in the Six Nations providing he signed a contract with a British club before then for after the current season, but he has chosen to stay in France.
“He fits perfectly into the club’s short and medium term objectives,” said Racing president Laurent Travers.
“We are convinced that he will be one of the driving forces to achieve them.
“He joined our squad just a few weeks ago but has already demonstrated all these qualities of a great competitor and great maturity.”
The decision has raised eyebrows in his homeland.
“I’d like to know how many players there is that are 20-21 who have left their country and become a success?” said former England player Chris Ashton on the BBC.
“Henry’s gone from playing on the bench at Irish, Irish going under, gone to a World Cup, gone to Paris where he’s got to learn a new language, playing at a club with a lot of superstars.
“I just can’t see how that is the right thing to be doing right now. There are times in your career to be doing that stuff.
“I needed somebody at that age to like properly mentor, spend a lot of time, put a lot of effort into me.
“You need someone who is willing to put a ridiculous amount of time into kids that age.”
Former England winger Ugo Monye was also bemused by the call.
“The steps from domestic to European to international are significant,” added Monye. “The game at international level is wildly different from club.
“Whilst Henry is so special I don’t think he quite understands what’s required from a winger at international level.”
The Times reported that Premiership side Bath and the RFU tabled an offer which would have made Arundell the first England player to take a new ‘hybrid contract’ – where club and country both contribute to his salary – but he rejected it.
Moana to take Super Rugby ‘home’
Te’ufaiva Stadium in Nuku’alofa will host Moana Pasifika’s first ever game in Tonga – when they face the Highlanders on May 4.
The Auckland-based club will be hooping for a similar injection as seen with Fiji who have proven very hard to beat at home.
Tonga Rugby Union president and Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said in a joint Moana Pasifika and TRU statement that they recognise the significance the game will have for rugby in Tonga.
“I am very happy as I am sure all Tongans are, to have Moana Pasifika right here in the Kingdom,” Hu’akavameiliku said.
“We look forward to continuing to demonstrate that we can host these international games.”
Nineteen of Moana Pasifika’s squad of 38 are of Tongan descent including former Wallaby Sekope Kepu.
TRU managing director Aisea Aholelei said: “It has been a long overdue event in the hearts and minds of locals to host Super Rugby Pacific, because of the prominence of Tongan players in Super Rugby and in Moana Pasifika.”
Moana Pasifika chairman Michael Jones added: “We are extremely privileged and excited to bring the very first Super Rugby game to the Kingdom of Tonga.
“Our Tongan people are some of the most passionate and loyal supporters.
“They deserve this fixture being played on home soil and to have the opportunity to watch their Moana Pasifika rugby heroes representing them live at their beloved Teufaiva Stadium.
“For us this game is about opportunity and hope. We want to build on the excellent momentum of the ‘Ikale Tahi made of late, particularly at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.”