Presently, only this qualification rule prevents a large number of players seeking to play elsewhere and in particular France and Japan. Those who advocate no restrictions must say how they mean to deal with the potentially disastrous consequences of a mass exodus of elite players. It is not good enough to simply say we will deal with it if it happens. By that time the damage will be done and who knows how deep it might be?
Abolitionists could point out that the RFU has already broken its rule to accommodate players from clubs who went bankrupt last season. First of all, they were very, very few in number and as this only happened last year you cannot seriously argue that this is the equivalent of a longer term, mass departure of top-level players. Moreover, the reason of exceptional circumstance was genuine; bankruptcy is about as extreme as you can imagine.
All levels of the English game are inter-dependent and require careful management to ensure each level is protected. This means the RFU cannot be blind to the circumstance of players like Itoje and their value in this circle of reliance and they might have to look at a compromise that exists in other unions rules.
A relaxation of the rule, along the lines of Giteau’s law in Australia, would not be unreasonable. A player can play abroad and for Australia after gaining a minimum 30 Test caps; and/or five seasons at Super Rugby level. That number of Tests is, for me, too low. Its previous level of 60 caps, under which Itoje would still qualify for England selection, is far preferable.