The Welsh Rugby Union has decided that the tagged name of “The Gatland Law” or to give it it’s official title, the Rugby Services Agreement is no more. To try to safeguard Welsh rugby talent remaining in Wales and to strive off the financial powers of England and France, the new selectional policy is that to play for Wales as of next season, you either have to remain in Wales playing your rugby, or, you can play for the country if you play outside of Wales but you will have had to have played at least 60 times for Wales to do this, otherwise you will not be available for selection.
Wales have had an issue with trying to keep the best players in the country for quite a while now. Fans obviously want to see their Welsh internationals playing for their respective Welsh professional sides striving to compete with the best club sides across Europe, but due to the financial restrictions, this has become tougher and tougher. Wales have lost to French and English sides in recent years players of the calibre of Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Rhys Priestland, Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins, Luke Charteris, Richard Hibbard, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau just to name a few. Some of these players have returned to our shores which in many ways may have been influenced by the so-called “Gatland Law”, which in summary meant that only so many players would be selected for Wales if you played outside of the country. This policy had many loopholes and could get very confusing in terms of who was captured and who was not. So at least with this new selectional ruling, it appears from what we know currently, a more transparent process for all to understand.
A new agreement has already caused quite a stir with the Rhys Webb saga. The talented scrum-half has only in the last two weeks agreed to join French giants Toulon as of next season. The player who has had a very stop-start career due to injuries has only won 28 caps for his country, so as he has already signed an agreement to sign for Toulon, would not be applicable for selection for Wales next season. Warren Gatland in his press conference says that the player and his agent, ex-Welsh international lock, Derwyn Jones, were aware of this policy change prior to agreeing to join the former European Champions. Both Jones and Webb dispute this, and state they were unaware of any change in policy before signing the agreement. Regardless of whether Webb knew or not, Wales next season will be losing their best number 9. The British and Irish Lion is an outstanding player who when he is fit and on form, is one of the best players in his position in Europe, hence why Toulon, who with their financial clout can acquire the large majority of any players they want, have agreed to acquire his services.
When Webb was discussing a potential move out of Wales even if he was unaware of the policy change he would have known that he was putting his international career in jeopardy. Under “The Gatland Law”, players could play for Wales under a wildcard caveat, but these wildcards were reducing in numbers every year so Webb would have had a battle on his hands. Now though his international career is on hold until he decides to return to Wales, or if he decides not to go through with his move to Toulon. At the moment he has not signed a contract just an agreement to sign. It is a big decision for the player, does he take a substantial wage and a change a lifestyle for him and his young family, or stay in Wales at a reduced salary but be able to wear the red shirt with the three feathers adorning the shirt?
The decision Webb now has to make will be a decision many young players will need to make as long as this policy is in place. Hugely talented young players in Wales coming up through the ranks such as Rhun Williams, Steff Evans, Seb Davies, James Davies, Ollie Griffiths and Ellis Jenkins as well as current Welsh internationals who are a distance away from 60 caps now when their current contract is close to expiring, have to decide whether to take big salaries that could set them up for life, for a few years and then return to play for their country, which is a risk as you are opening a door to others to secure their position in the side in your absence? A player such as Ross Moriarty who broken into the Welsh set-up whilst playing outside of Wales for Gloucester, now knows that when his contract is up this summer, as he does not have the necessary number of caps, he has no option if he wants to continue his international career at this point, has to move to one of the Welsh regions. Financially, what impact will that have in him? Similarly Tomas Francis of Exeter Chiefs. Really big decisions to make. The financial climate in Wales is just not at a level anywhere close to what England and France can pay their players, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon with TV and commercial revenue not at the numbers France and England pull in. I accept that strong club sides with Welsh international players playing will enhance the international side, but is the finances in a suitable place to compete with England and France? If not the WRU are relying on the pull of the red Welsh jersey being too irrestible to resist, will be interesting to see in reality if this is the case.
So it seems that a number of players have some big decisions to make, do you chase your lifetime ambition that many of us have had to play for Wales or do you take the path of thinking that your career is only short so get in as much money as you can while you can? It does strike me as odd that the first player impacted by this change in policy is a player who has gave his all for Wales has only received 28 caps due to his number of injuries in his career, a few occurred while playing for his country, and also a player who was on a National Dual Contract so 60% of his wages were paid by the WRU, so his employer, has now turned around and put that player in a very difficult position. Over to you now Rhys Webb, it’s going to be interesting to see how all this plays out.
What are your thoughts on the new policy? A necessary evil or overkill?
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