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England hooker joins Premiership exodus to France

TRANSFER NEWS: England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie has signed a three-year contract with Montpellier starting next season, the French Top 14 champions announced on Monday.

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England have a rule against picking players with foreign clubs, but while his contract will start in July, Cowan-Dickie, who has 42 England caps, will join the Top 14 side after the Rugby World Cup.

That means the 29-year-old, like back-row Sam Simmonds, another player moving from Exeter Chiefs to Montpellier, and Zach Mercer, a back row forward leaving Montpellier for Gloucester in the summer, could be eligible for selection in at the World Cup which runs from September 8 to October 28 in France.

“Playing for England is the pinnacle of your career, so it’s tough to leave that behind,” Cowan-Dickie told the Chiefs website.

“We’ve got the Six Nations coming up, then the World Cup, and I want to be involved in both.”

Cowan-Dickie will share the hooker position at Montpellier with Australia’s Brandon Paenga-Amosa as former France front rower Guilhem Guirado retired in June.

“Luke Cowan-Dickie is one of the best hookers in Europe,” Montpellier director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre said.

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“He is a very experienced player, who has decided to try his luck in a new league after the 2023 World Cup, and we are very happy that he has chosen Montpellier,” he added.

Later on Monday, Stade Francais announced Cowan-Dickie’s international teammate in Harlequins centre Joe Marchant would also leave the Premiership and join the Parisians next season.

The 26-year-old made the last of his 13 international appearances in July’s first Test loss to Australia.

Marchant, Cowan-Dickie and Simmonds join a host of England players crossing the channel as English clubs feel financial pressure with the likes of flank Jack Willis having already joined record 21-time French champions Toulouse after Wasps entered administration.

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The salary cap in the English Premiership has been reduced to £5 million ($6.5 million) for this campaign down from £6.4 million while the number in France for this season is 10 million euros.

French clubs have won the last two editions of the Champions Cup, with this season’s competition starting on Friday with Montpellier travelling to London Irish.

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