Are the Welsh Rugby Union deciding on the regions players?

As many of you who read my recent ramblings know, I have a real concern over the troubles in Welsh Rugby and where the future of Welsh Rugby is heading to. Another incident has occurred, which if what we have read comes to fruition, gives me yet another reason to transcribe my concerns.

Respected journalist, Simon Thomas wrote a piece on the 28th April in Wales Online where it states that Nick Williams, the barnstorming back row forward of the Cardiff Blues is in the middle of a contractual dispute involving him, Cardiff Blues and the Welsh Rugby Union. Williams, 35 years of age, is in the final months of his contract; however, it is reported the player and Cardiff Blues are keen to retain his services. However, there is a stumbling block, that being the WRU are stating that Cardiff Blues should not be looking to offer Williams a new contract but look elsewhere. Ideally elsewhere is a Welsh qualified player to join the region to take over the number eight shirt which Williams has worn superbly since 2016.

Cardiff Blues fans are voicing their disapproval over this announcement, and there have also been fans from other regions and indeed from other countries voicing their dissatisfaction of this interjection from the governing body, the WRU. This is just yet another decision that has been made, which currently, makes you ask whether they are trying to support the regions or devalue them. The structure in Wales is completely different to Ireland, their governing body the IRFU have the wealth to centralise all contracts of the players in the provinces, so those players are controlled by them and moved around their teams to try to have the maximum impact for Ireland. Joey Carberry moving from Leinster to Munster is an example of this. In Wales, only one of the three regions are owned by the WRU and contracts are not centralised.

In recent weeks/months we have endured Project Reset, which will change players contracts and their income over the coming years and also initially judging by numerous reports, looked to move a region to North Wales. With the number of regions remaining at four, it appeared that the Ospreys were in real danger of going out of business.

This is the same Ospreys, who only less than 2 months of being extinct as a standalone region have now acquired the current Welsh first-choice fly-half from the Cardiff Blues in Gareth Anscombe for next season, and also potentially be the only Welsh region that qualifies for the Heineken Champions Cup for next season with a playoff game with the Scarlets just around the corner where the winner gains a spot in the top tier European club competition, a region that almost became defunct, could potentially finish in the very same season as based on finishing positions arguably the number one team in Wales!

Getting back to the point surrounding Nick Williams. I understand that the WRU do not want the regions overloaded with players from outside of Wales, therefore, blocking the pathway to the regions with only four professional sides in the country, especially if those respective players do not improve playing standards. However, with the non-Welsh qualified players’ rotas in place, meaning only a number of players can take the field at any one time for a region does this not put paid to some of these fears?

Also, in the case in mention, Williams has not only improved the players’ standards at the Cardiff Blues on the rugby field but off it as well. He has had an enormous influence, driving high standards at the region with his work ethic and how he conducts himself with the fan base, where he is a real fan favorite. All of these factors should be taken into account in my view when coming to a conclusion over any players.

WRU seem to be only viewing this particular scenario purely from a playing perspective. But is there another number eight who can come in and do a similar or even a better job than Williams? If so, what would be the cost with tight financial constraints in place for the Welsh regions? Ross Moriarty, Taulupe Faletau? Both would cost a substantial amount, and I am sure the Dragons (owned by the WRU) would not want to lose Moriarty to the Cardiff Blues.

For me, the WRU need to be thinking of the bigger picture. Yes, with the 60 cap ruling and limiting the amount of non-Welsh players taking the field for the regions gives Welsh players the opportunity to play for the Welsh Regions and also allows the paying fans of the respective regions to watch their Welsh international stars play (when Wales do not have games, but that is another issue for another day), but squads need to be competitive, and for that to happen you need players from outside of Wales to strengthen your team within the cost restraints in place. As we know rugby union is a business and generating revenue is the key.

Another angle to look at in this scenario of the WRU getting involved with a players contract negotiations at a region, is how will private investment be enticed into Welsh rugby if the control of personnel is heavily impacted by the governing body? Which businessmen or women would want to invest in that environment? I would suggest not many.

There have been so many players who have pursued their trade in Wales and have had such a positive impact on the rugby scene both on and off the pitch. Some examples include players such as Marty Holah, Jerry Collins, Filo Tiatia, Taufa’ao Filise, Paul Tito and Xavier Rush. In some cases, the players I mentioned, their best years were behind them, but they were still outstanding rugby players, and their influences on and off the field were massive. There have been countless stories of current rugby players who were coming through the ranks at the time with these players who learned so much from these players both on and off the field.

These experiences are vital to the growth of a player and I hope that the WRU can understand and appreciate this, Williams working on a daily basis with a young emerging eight such as Alun Lawrence or James Botham could only have a positive outcome. Nick Williams should be given the opportunity to remain in Wales and with the Cardiff Blues. If a deal can be agreed that suits both the player and the club then that should be sufficient, the WRU should not be in any position to block the transaction from being done; it is just wrong.

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