10:16am Thursday 30th January 2014
THE Welsh regions say there is no agreement to play centrally contracted players – but Wales skipper Sam Warburton says he believes more players will follow him in penning deals with the governing body.
The openside flanker has signed a three-year contract with the WRU that will take effect once his deal with Cardiff Blues expires this summer.
The Union stated when announcing the move that he would be sent out to play for the Arms Park outfit for free.
But Regional Rugby Wales, the body that represents Newport Gwent Dragons, the Blues, Ospreys and Scarlets, said in a statement that they were "bemused" by the decision to dish out an individual national contract.
"The Regions would also question how one national contract works as a constructive and sustainable strategy for the whole of Welsh rugby given that we have some 200 professional players in Wales contracted to the Regions.
"The Regions are concerned about the impact of this action, the confusion it creates within Welsh Rugby at this time and how it may unsettle the balance of strong and close-knit team environments at the Regions.
"For many months through the proper channels of the PRGB, the regions have attempted to discuss a number of pragmatic options for different contract models with the WRU; as part of a wider structural solution that focuses on delivering sustainable and competitive professional rugby at all levels over the next ten years.
"These proposals had at their core the objective of retaining our Welsh International players and ensuring they trained and played their weekly rugby in Wales.
"The proposals also confirmed that the Regions would only play a centrally contracted player on collective agreement between all four Regions - as part of a complete structural solution for the future of the game in Wales.
"This agreement between the Four Regions was to ensure that any national contract agreement was part of a clear and proper strategy and agreed framework to achieve long-term solutions for player retention in Wales; and guard against any quick fix, ad-hoc action.
"No overall framework has been agreed between the WRU and Regions, so no agreement to play centrally contracted players in the Regions currently exists."
Warburton used his column for Thursday morning's Daily Telegraph to outline his position.
"For me it is a win/win situation. I can train with the Blues and play for them. In that respect everything will be as it is now," he wrote.
"As a national contract player I would be subject to the same call-up rules as any other member of the squad so I cannot see any difference in my rugby routine from now on.
"That is how it will work. It will be similar to how central contracts work in Ireland and New Zealand.
I think central contracts can work, and will work.
"I am sure more Wales players will sign up, and it will become clear that it is not the WRU competing against the regions. It is about everyone working together."
Lock Alun Wyn Jones, though, recently agreed fresh terms with his regional team the Ospreys, turning down a central contract, while Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny opted to sign for reigning European champions Toulon and fly-half Rhys Priestland - thought to be among a handful of current Wales internationals offered central contracts - has yet to decide on his future.
Priestland said: "I would just like to see how things pan out.
"I find it difficult because I don't know all the facts so it's hard to make a fully informed decision.
"The sooner I can sort it out the better. I have spoken to Leigh, Alun and Sam, and they all feel a weight off their shoulders (after deciding their futures).
"I think it would be better if I stayed in Wales, but nothing is set in stone yet."
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