Former England skipper and coach Martin Johnson has questioned the nation's lack of depth ahead of the upcoming tour of South Africa this summer.
The legend’s comments join an intensifying debate after the issue of Brad Shields potentially being selected by England continues to rumble on.
Despite being born in New Zealand, Shields qualifies to play for England through his parents. He currently plies his trade down in the southern hemisphere captaining Super Rugby club Hurricanes but is set to become eligible for England once he completes his move to Wasps at the end of the season.
There has been talk that the loose forward will be fast-tracked into Eddie Jones’ injury-ridden England side for the tour of South Africa, a move that has sparked debate.
But Johnson believes the fact Shields is even being considered just highlights the limited options the England coach has at his disposal.
“I don’t know what the answer is," Johnson told The Times. "There’s more people employed in developing rugby talent in this country than ever before – so why is it not coming through? It is a concern. We don’t seem to have the depth.
“Who’s this guy they’re signing from New Zealand?
“My answer is: there’s a reason they’re doing it [bringing in Shields]. This has been coming for a while. Eddie’s doing it because he obviously doesn’t think he’s got enough talent in England.
“It doesn’t offend me. It is worrying that he doesn’t think the players are in this country. We should be producing the players to have an international squad and be able to cover the natural unavailability. We don’t seem to have that depth at the moment.”
Johnson continued: “I have been worried a while – where are the next players? If you have a team that’s going well and they play until they are quite old, by definition, the next generation are not coming through, not getting a chance.
“I’m sure some people would say they are but that they are not getting a chance to play because the Premiership clubs are just bringing in foreign players.”
Former World Cup-winning rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward had stronger words about the Shields situation.
While Woodward understands Shields is eligible, he stressed that shouldn't 'mean others should be brushed aside in the stampede to select him'.
He wrote: "Shields is a product of the New Zealand system, won the world championship with their under 20s, has been the captain of the Hurricanes and been talked about as a possible All Black over the years.
"Why not promote from the English game, the Premiership and the RFU's outstanding under-20 system? Let's make a virtue of that."