Warburton case highlights madness of Welsh Rugby’s civil war


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

15 thoughts on “Warburton case highlights madness of Welsh Rugby’s civil war

  1. As I understand it, Warburton wouldn’t be able to play for an Aviva Premiership side either, as the PRL agreement blocks the use of any player under contract with a union rather than the individual team they are possibly playing for. So, he would have to cancel his contract with the WRU to take a new contract with an AP club, at which point, everything is back on the table (e.g. Top 14 money….)

  2. I’m fairly sure that no one in the premiership is allowed to take him either. He could go to the Championship and play for Bristol perhaps? He may not be first choice 7 since they got Lam though.

  3. Ludicrous yes but please don’t quote Derwyn as some sort of useful source. This is the man who claimed Sam turned down “double” the 350K the WRU contract is worth – which would have made him the highest paid rugby player in the world.

    This is the man who claims to have negotiated “full release” for all Welsh training etc. but when questioned over some players missing he said those sessions were “outside the IRB window”. So he had “negotiated” the clubs obeying the IRB rules.

    This is the man who convinced Sam that he could play for Cardiff without commitment from Cardiff that this was the case and in fact was contrary to the published RRW intentions.

    I feel gutted for Sam – he undoubtedly turned down a stack of cash to stay in Wales and hopefully play for Cardiff (my hope anyway) but he has been badly advised into believing that him signing that contract would lead to a smooth transition into him playing for Cardiff and he is now “owned” by a bunch of non-rugby guys who have a track record of doing whatever it takes to stay in charge.

    On the wider note, yes, Welsh rugby is now in major trouble (cue huge laughs wherever casual and clueless rugby fans live). I don’t have much more to say on that – it’s dying and it’s looking more grim every day.

    1. Chin up Brighty. Sometimes I think you need an almost catastrophe to get things right long term. Short term pain but maybe a better long term solution can arise rather than having this long running sore bandaged and re bandaged over and over again.

      Maybe the current arrangement will die but something better can be re born.

      Perhaps Ritchie can mediate like he did for the Euro cup?

      1. That has to be the hope Benjit but the concern is that it dies for too long before the rebirth and then we don’t get the following/interest back because people have moved on to other things. Scary times. We have the genuine prospect of no Welsh internationals at regions from next season.

        1. I don’t think the powers that be would let that happen. No Wales would seriously weaken the international game. I’m sure even the RFU would step in to stop that (well maybe some time after November 2015 ;))

          1. I think it’s complex – other Union’s would have some sympathy with the WRU I think and would probably hope that the doomsday scenario doesn’t happen but I’ve been through a decade of this crap and this is the first time I’m genuinely concerned that my season ticket will need to be refunded as we’ll have no players/competition because the Pro12 agreement is with the WRU, not the regions. Eventually some might realise that no Wales does, as you say, weaken all but there will be many in the short term who would just see it as market forces at work and would even welcome the reduced competition, esp. in that world cup group next year.

            Best case – we hobble on for a few more years with a compromise agreement. Regions get worse and worse competitively.

            Worst case – the regions finally cave in to the WRU and give up. The WRU sets up 3 (or maybe 2) teams – East & West. No fans, no stadiums (West would play in Millienium to tiny crowds, East maybe at PYS), no players. Anyone decent in Wales goes off to France/Eng for stability and with zero ability to demand any sort of release for Wales given the glut of players around when it all goes wrong. Wales tumble down the rankings and eventually we’re a spent force with the occasional tussle for the wooden spoon to make things interesting before the French/English/Irish get tired of this and join up with SA.

            1. You have my sympathy Brighty but I think things may not be as bad as you think. It may be true that some Unions may have sympathy for the WRFU but I don’t think their sympathy would stretch to contemplating the PRO12 without the welsh regions. Without the welsh regions the other PRO 12 unions would be facing financial disaster losing a third of their fixtures and much reduced value of TV and sponsorship deals which would concentrate their minds wonderfully. I think you can look forward to WRU being heavily pressurised by the other PRO12 unions in private if not publicly. In addition the WRU would also face significant financial penalties. Eventually they will have to come up with an acceptable compromise.

  4. This is the price you pay when you are the stooge for a man like Roger the Dodger.

    SW should have been less prepared to be Roger’s Gimp and signed for his region like other Welsh players did such as AW Jones and Scott Williams.

    No point crying about it now from Sam’s standpoint as he knew that the regions were not prepared to play centrally contracted players as things stood in Jan (and still stand now)

    Perhaps he’ll get games by playing for Cardiff RFC in the Welsh Premiership?

    Perhaps St Peter(s) will intervene on his behalf?

    When you take Roger’s shilling and willingly drink from the poisoned chalice proffered by the WRU this is what always happens.

  5. All rugby fans of whatever nationality are hoping for a sensible resolution of this. My concern is that ex rugby players generally make poor administrators as the cussed approach that helps on the pitch is a hindrance off it.

  6. As far as SM is concerned he should NEVER have signed a central contract with the WRU.
    He knew the Regions were refusing to play centrally contracted players BEFORE he signed with the Taffia like Roger Lewis and David Pickering.

    SM only has himself to blame and if he wants to undermine the regions and the other players by being Roger Lewis’ ‘bitch’ then that is no-one’s fault but his own.

    1. I agree, but I think Warburton just wants to play for Wales and not for a club. I had the feeling before he signed the contract and certainly believe it now. Though, it could be the case that he is not very bright and honestly didn’t see this coming. Yikes, either case.

  7. Just sort it out ffs. Your supposed to be professionals. If the morons running welsh rugby cant sort this then maybe they (the union management and the region owners) should all be replaced with people who can solve the issues. The game is more important than any of them!

  8. Ron The thing is the WRU want to bleed the regions dry of cash. The regions fold and then the WRu can centrally contract and run 2-3 teams.

    This will be a disaster as we have seen that having 2 regions has done Scotland no favours whatsoever.

    unfortunately Roger the Dodger is more interested in paying off the debt on the Millennium Stadium than seeing successful well funded regional teams.

    I have long suspected that he has a clause in his own contract that entitles him to a whopping great bonus if the stadium debt is reduced by X amount under his ‘leadership’ (not what I would call his tenure in his current post)

    This may well go some way to explain the obsession with making the Welsh players undertake a 4th AI every year that always falls outside the IRB window. A match Wales always lose by the way!

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