Players should look at whole package involved in French switch

Rugby Players' Association chief executive Damian Hopley has urged his members to look beyond the financial rewards when considering whether to join a French club.

Hopley admits the possibility of an exodus of top internationals across the Channel remains a concern in the English game.

Many clubs in the French Top 14, many of whom are bankrolled by wealthy benefactors, operate on twice the 4m salary cap in place in the Premiership. Hopley accepts the money may be attractive, but has urged players to look at the whole package.

"Half of the clubs would like to see the salary cap raised, the other half would like to see it reduced," he said.

"The bottom line is we must live within our means because we are in the midst of an enormous recession.

"How do we pay within our means yet retain the best players?

"It's a difficult balance because if someone is being offered treble their money from a French club, it's going to be hard to turn down. You're always one injury away from the end of your career.

"But there are mixed stories coming back from France, so it's as much about the environment and support off the field as the bottom line. Sometimes players have gone to France and been unhappy and their family has been unhappy too."

England recently declared they would only select overseas-based players in "exceptional circumstances" after next year's World Cup.

Hopley understands the position and has reminded RPA members to consider the consequences if they do leave the Premiership.

"The announcement by England was a bit heavy-handed but we believe it will force players to make a decision sooner rather than later," he said.

"If this is what it takes to get the best results from England at the 2015 World Cup, then that's the price players will have to pay."

Ireland lock Paul O'Connell will be available for the start of the Six Nations after receiving only a four-week suspension for striking.

O'Connell was shown a red card for felling Jonathan Thomas with a swinging arm during Munster's 22-16 victory over Ospreys at Thomond Park on Sunday.

An independent hearing in Dublin issued a five-week ban reduced by one week on account of the Lions captain's good disciplinary record and he is free to play from January 10.

Wales back-row Jonathan Thomas has agreed a new contract with the Ospreys that will keep him at the Liberty Stadium until 2014. Thomas is second in the all-time appearance list for the Ospreys, playing his 136th match in Saturday's 22-16 Heineken Cup defeat by Munster.