European mess threatens Warburton’s future in Wales

Sam Warburton made his first appearance for the Cardiff Blues at the weekend since his injury on the Lions tour, but the news broke this morning that the current European rugby crisis means his future at the region is far from certain. His agent, former Wales lock Derwyn Jones, insists Warburton wants to stay in Wales, but the financial uncertainty of the region means he has not yet been offered a new deal.

“Sam Warburton has told Cardiff Blues that he wants to stay in Wales next season,” Jones told Y Clwb Rygbi. “But the region aren’t able to offer him a contract at the moment because of the mess that exists in Europe. They don’t know how much money they will have next year.”

“Five weeks ago we said to the WRU and Cardiff Blues that Warburton wants to stay in Wales, but there is no contract offer on the table because of what is happening in Europe.”

The proposed Rugby Champions Cup, that has been put forward by the English and French clubs, has been opened up to all the RaboDirect clubs (including Cardiff), but could yet be vetoed by the national unions, as well as the IRB. Indeed, the unions all came out last week with strongly-worded statements condemning the new tournament.

The issue is, without the revenue from any new tournament, the regions and provinces will not be able to offer their top starts attractive enough deals to keep them around. After the Lions tour effectively worked as a shop window for the players, they will not be short of suitors from across the Channel.

“There is only so much time that guys like Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Adam Jones can wait until there is a contract offer, so the WRU and the regions must get together and do whatever they can for the good of Welsh rugby,” said Jones

“[There must not be] the kind of power struggle that has gone on in the past [between the WRU and the regions] and they must do it now. If they don’t do it now then these players will be going.”

This is the latest worrying development for Cardiff regarding their top players, after Jamie Roberts left for Racing Metro this season, and reports emerged last week claiming Leigh Halfpenny was in France looking around Toulon.

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

11 thoughts on “European mess threatens Warburton’s future in Wales

  1. In any negotiation, the parties need to very carefully consider the strengths and weaknesses of their position before engaging in brinkmanship. I’m beginning to think that WRU didn’t really do this!

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy with this whole Anglo Frog thing, but it is just possible that they had a clearer understanding of the negotiating positions than the Rabo powers.

    Going to bring an extra edge to the next 6 nations!

  2. I may be missing the point with this but it seems to me that the WRU control the regions. Surely this can’t be a good thing. It should be down to the clubs to raise revenue for themselves and do with it as they see fit. The WRU should just want what is best for the national side. Mind you saying that if they don’t veto the clubs joining a top european competition top players will go overseas and their game should get better so that will benefit the national team. It’s the regions and smaller clubs that will suffer.

    1. Jeffers, the WRU don’t control the regions. There are 4 franchises in Wales. The teams we now have as regions effectively “bid” for them. There are strong links but no control. The regions get a few million in funding from the WRU as part of the deal so that is why it’s not clear cut who is in charge of the regions destinies.

      The problem is that in small countries if you have clubs doing what is best for them and unions doing what is best for the national team then you have a conflict. Playing/training for the six nations actually harms Cardiff Blues for example as we lose our best players. The Blues playing Warbs for every single minute of the year would harm Wales. So we need a balance or we’ll end up like footy – top end clubs, bottom end national sides. Most of us smaller rugby nations approach it in a similar way (France and Eng are the main exceptions really rather than the accepted model).

      In terms of control on this issue – all Unions control the clubs on this. Even the PRL will need the RFUs blessing for the new comp. The RFU have not given it yet but most people expect this to be a formality.

      Not sure I agree that all of our best players going overseas will be good for the national side. We’ll lose them from training, they’ll be flogged to death (Roberts and Lydiate already good examples) and in the long run the lack of any decent domestic rugby in Wales will lead to a dwindling supply of young players.

  3. Brighty – not sure the RFU’s blessing is a given. They’re between a rock and a hard place admittedly, but if they roll over and have their tummy’s tickled it will just give more power to the clubs to the detriment of the England team. All national unions and clubs are inevitably and inextricably interlinked.

    Am also very worried as to the future of Welsh rugby if this all goes pear shaped, and I for one want to see rugby thrive in the principality and further afield.

    1. I almost missed the “principality” dig there Staggy… Well smuggled in :-)

      Do you think the RFU are already a bit toothless in England though? The fight has been fought and the PRL already won? The Elite agreement thing is good (though I’d be worried about it being renewed on such favourable terms for England) but doesn’t all of this already show that PRL doesn’t really give a stuff what the RFU think? (I feel a little sorry for the RFU really, they’re like some hen pecked old husband trying to hang on to what is left of their dignity while their shrewish wife goes around picking fights with his mates).

      I gave up worrying about the pear-shaped nature of Welsh rugby in the 90s. It’s limped along since then, always in a critical condition. The recent success of our team was a bigger surprise to the Welsh than it was to anyone else.

      However … I do fancy the Ospreys might have hit the right balance this year and could be a proper threat in the final HC. Their Lions dominated pack is smashing people all over the place, Tibaldi looks a great signing, Biggar is now on full confidence after a full 6N season … Eli Walker, Fussel, Ashley Beck, Hassel .. looking good.

      1. Brighty – you’re getting more sensitive in your old age!! It wasn’t a dig, I genuinely had no idea you would be offended by the reference to principality. I shall only do it in future when I want to wind you up!! Lol.

        As far as the power of the unions goes, I reckon they are all on the back foot in the face of club power. (E)RFU still has considerable financial power so it hangs on in there, but they don’t want war with the clubs as there won’t be any winners. WRU seem to be in a worst predicament as you pointed out earlier. Wales have always avoided a mass exodus of players (mainly because none of you can stand the thought of playing in England!). If it happens now, you will damage club rugby in the pr….. sorry Wales, and ten/15 years down the line it could well affect players coming through.

        1. I agree completely – if all of our best players leave, if the regions go bankrupt (and the two are linked) then it’s a disaster. Right now I have a Blues season ticket, my son and I go to all the games. Without decent rugby I wouldn’t be able to take him and I’d probably need, just to cheer him up, to get a football season ticket. I’m probably not the only one who’d move across.

          Without that exposure from a young age I doubt he would play as much rugby as he does now and probably the same for most of his mates.

          This whole thing is a disaster and it’s come just as we thought we only really had 1 problem – getting the regional crowds up and getting them better funded. There were options for that (more WRU money, better marketing, etc.) which were slowly beginning to have an effect. But now we face the real chance of the end of top flight pro rugby in Wales which will mean the national side implodes sooner or later. No top flight sporting nation has zero domestic comp.

          Principality V Country – :-) I know you didn’t mean it as a diss but we have, for a long time, had to put up with it oft being used in a pejorative sense, something to belittle our claim to be a nation.

          1. You see this is the cross that we have to bear. You Welsh always think us English are being rude even when we aren’t!!!!!!!!!! :-)

  4. Thanks Brighty, I thought there was something I was missing. Just in my eyes that’s how it appears.

    Do you think players that go outside the principality are treated better? I’m not too sure. It just just seems that the Welsh regions are feeder clubs to the Aviva/European clubs. I would just love to see Blues competing for silverware, crowds are falling and I just think there is a bigger problem that needs to be addressed and having the big names playing week in week out would bring them in. Don’t get me wrong I was cheering as loud as anyone when Wales won the Grandslam in 2012 ans the 6Nations this year but it’s at principlality/club level where the game is suffering. Unless we can get youngsters involved in the game at a young age, and that means seeing the Halfpennys, Warbs, Cuthbert playing week in week out, then we wont having the Patchell, Robinsons coming through. I do accept other points of view but as a fan it just seems as black (or red) and white as that.

    1. Jeffers, I meant the opposite, Welsh players that go outside Wales are treated worse. (We are not a principality! :-).

      I also would love to see the Blues competing and it’s not that long since they were. Semi-finalists not that long ago. Until the middle of the 2000s we had only lost one HC match at home and that was the inaugural final.

      Completely agree – we need to get these players playing in Wales to inspire the youth. The difference they make, as we saw with The Blues on Friday night, is massive when they are on form.

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