When Wales captain Sam Warburton signed a central contract with the WRU back in January, eyebrows were raised. He was the first (and, since then, only) player to sign a central contract at a time when Regional Rugby Wales (the body that represents the four regions) had made it abundantly clear they would not be renewing the current Participation Agreement between themselves and the WRU.
Two questions immediately sprang to mind. Firstly, would other players follow in his footsteps? And secondly, and far more importantly, what happens to Warburton if an agreement isn’t reached between the WRU and RRW in time for the new season?
The first question has since been answered: no. Not one other player has signed a central contract with the WRU – a fairly damning indictment of the state of things behind the scenes in Wales.
The latter is now a huge issue. You have to feel for Warburton. All he wants to do is play rugby for his region and his country – at the time he thought a central contract was the best way to go about it. He’s not an administrator – how was he to know that the proverbial excrement was about to hit the fan?
“The only reason I signed my central contract was because it was the best way for me to stay at home and play for the Blues,” said Warburton recently.
That statement is simply untrue. His future is anything but secure within Wales – there are more questions now than ever. If the WRU and RRW don’t reach a deal, will Warburton be allowed to play for the Blues? If not, where will he play his rugby? Will the regions even compete in the Guinness PRO12? (Side note – a penny for the new sponsor’s thoughts right now).
Warburton’s case highlights the chaos of the situation in Wales. A spokesman for RRW said recently: “Sam will not play for any of the regions until an agreement is reached.”
The country’s captain and one of their best players is in the frankly ludicrous position of potentially being without club rugby next season. We’ve no idea what the terms of his central contract are, but one solution that has been mooted is a loan to an Aviva Premiership club – a solution that would no doubt go down like a lead balloon in Wales.
Derwyn Jones, Warburton’s agent, has bemoaned the situation, quite rightly pointing out that the players should never have ended up in the middle of the whole thing.
“You don’t want individual players like Sam… caught in the middle, you want a resolution so they can just go out and play their rugby. This goes far further than just Sam Warburton, there’s regions talking about having to make cut backs in their businesses.
“Sam’s only option to stay in Wales was with the governing body and he was very happy to sign at the time, otherwise he was going to be lost and go to France and that’s something he didn’t want to commit to.”
Warburton will not be the only one affected. Without funding from the WRU, the regions face having to sell their best players as they will be unable to afford to pay their wages. With stars such as Adam Jones, Ian Evans and Jonathan Davies having already left this summer, there are unlikely to be any test players left plying their trade in Wales.
This could have a catastrophic effect on the national team. Wales’ fourth autumn international this year falls outside of the IRB international window. If other test players do leave – or even if they stay in Wales and no new Participation Agreement is reached – who will Wales name in their team for that game against South Africa? Sam Warburton plus fourteen other players that play in Wales, but not for one of the regions?!
It is an utterly ludicrous situation to be in, just a year out from a World Cup in which Wales find themselves in the toughest of pools, with England, Australia and Fiji for company. God only knows what the resolution to this mess is, but with fans and players alike at the centre of the suffering, it has to be found soon.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images