Welsh regions powerless to staunch player exodus

The clubs say the WRU wants them to disappear, replaced by franchises

It is not just football in Cardiff that is befitting of the pantomime season. As one Wales rugby player after another takes up contracts outside the country during an angry stand-off between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the four regions who play in the Heineken Cup and Pro 12, the treble Grand Slam-winner Ryan Jones offered a suitably Christmassy analogy when asked whether the exodus of more than a dozen stars to clubs in England and France would hamper the national team ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

"The proof of the pudding will be in the eating," said Jones, the Ospreys forward and some-time Wales captain. "There have never been so many players away, en masse, and the obvious concern is of a detrimental effect on Wales.

"There's a huge amount of preparation, time and effort – and control – that goes into international rugby, and if you have players in France it becomes difficult. The flipside is that if they're playing in top competitions maybe they're having an advantage over [Welsh] clubs that are less competitive. In four months' time we might be looking at winning the Six Nations title for the third year in a row and decide it's not as bad as it seems."

Some unhappy regional directors are painting the WRU chief executive, Roger Lewis, as the Vincent Tan of rugby piece. Lewis has told the regions, who are losing money, that they must disregard their lack of faith in the Pro 12 and Heineken Cup and sign up this month for the second half of the 10-year WRU participation agreement established in 2008.

In doing so the regions would forget entering an Anglo-Welsh League with the BT-backed English clubs, even though that competition has support from the Wales coach, Warren Gatland. The regions, who have almost a polar opposite view to Lewis's of how their business competence was measured in a PricewaterhouseCoopers report a year ago, argue that much has changed since 2008, not least the buying power of the French, who are set in mid-January to announce a domestic TV deal worth up to treble the €31 million (£26m) a year they achieved in the last round – and to a lesser extent the English.

One region's chief executive said the 3.5 per cent index-linked uplift in the WRU participation agreement, that would take the current £6.6m WRU payment for player release and other matters up to £7.6m by 2019, ought to be 100 per cent if the regions are to fight off bids from the likes of Toulon for Wales stars, including the full-back Leigh Halfpenny. An uplift of 20 per cent might settle the row, but the unknown is how keen Lewis might be to do things differently.

The regions say Lewis wants them to disappear, to be replaced by two or more franchises based on WRU central contracts – a huge snub to the private businessmen who say they have ploughed £40m into the regions while the WRU have been busy paying down debt on the Millennium Stadium.

There is talk of court action against the Union over restraint of trade and abuse of a dominant position. The WRU admit they have offered central contracts, but confusion reigns over the terms. The Blues believe their Wales captain Sam Warburton, who has become something of a pawn in the game, is ready to accept a salary comprising £200,000 from the region, £150,000 out of the Union funds, plus whatever he makes from playing for Wales and image rights – possibly as much as £500,000 but still less what he might earn in France. But on Friday the BBC reported the WRU were ready to deploy central contracts in the absence of a renewal of the participation agreement.

Meanwhile Warburton's shoulder injury might keep him out of the opening Six Nations matches in February, and possibly for much longer.

A crowd of 10,000-plus kept the Arms Park bars busy beyond midnight on Friday after the Blues-Ospreys match, the first in a popular series of five Welsh derbies over the festive period. "If we had 25 matches like this a season we'd be on to a winner," said Jones. But not every week is like this, with attendances well below capacity for the regions and sometimes for Wales during their elongated autumn programme, which is one of the regions' many gripes.

"I desperately want to see our best players, our heroes, playing locally," said Jones. "It's a Catch-22. Our guys wouldn't be headhunted from France if Wales hadn't had their recent Six Nations and Lions success. We are under attack.

"I still believe there's going to be regional rugby and European competition, but it's in others' control. The next three weeks is a wonderful opportunity for this generation of players to put a marker down and show that we're proud to play here. We'll make it as good a spectacle as we can. That's all we can do."

Wales players in exile

Jamie Roberts; Racing Métro

Mike Phillips; Racing Métro

George North; Northampton

Dan Lydiate; Racing Métro

Luke Charteris; Perpignan

Paul James; Bath

James Hook; Perpignan

Craig Mitchell; Exeter

Tavis Knoyle; Gloucester

Lee Byrne; Clermont Auv

Dwayne Peel; Sale Sharks

Jonathan Davies; Clermont (from 2014)

Ian Evans; Toulon (from 2014)

Richard Hibbard; Gloucester (from 2014)

Out of contract next summer

Leigh Halfpenny; Cardiff Blues

Alun Wyn Jones; Ospreys

Adam Jones; Ospreys

Rhys Priestland; Scarlets

Bradley Davies; Cardiff Blues

Staying for now

Toby Faletau; NG Dragons

Alex Cuthbert, Gethin Jenkins, Cory Allen; Cardiff Blues

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own