Rob Howley worried by Gallic drift of top Welsh talent
Jamie Roberts, the outstanding Cardiff Blues centre who can expect to start for the British and Irish Lions against the Wallabies in Australia next summer, returned to the Wales squad yesterday after a lengthy spell of injury hassle and is certain to feature in the Red Dragons' opening autumn Test against Argentina next month. No worries there. The interim head coach, Rob Howley, did, however, express concern over the way the careers of a number of high-profile players, Roberts included, are panning out.
Roberts is expected to end his association with the Blues at the end of the season: the cash-rich Parisians of Racing Metro favourite to lure him to France. If Roberts goes, he will join the likes of James Hook, Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins and Luke Charteris on the far side of the water and, with the crack Newport-Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate also being talked of as a potential Tricolore recruit, the problem for Welsh rugby is likely to intensify.
Those players currently in France will not attend next weekend's training camp in Poland – a key element in the reigning Six Nations champions' conditioning programme – because of club commitments across the water. In addition, they are unlikely to be available for the last contest in the forthcoming international series – against Australia in Cardiff on 1 December – because that game falls outside the agreed Test window.
Howley said that he and Warren Gatland, the Wales coach currently on secondment to the Lions, had spent the best part of a week in France on what amounted to a diplomatic initiative aimed at getting on the right side of coaches at Perpignan, Bayonne and Toulon – one that failed to bear fruit.
"It was important to go there and try to create a relationship," Howley argued. "If you don't try, you're always going to get a negative answer. Ideally, we want everyone to stay in Wales, but we understand that in terms of supply and demand, it isn't going to happen. We need to find a solution – a Welsh solution – but it won't happen overnight. As for Jamie, we've been in discussions. I think his position is a little different: I don't think it's a financial decision with him. He's going to be a doctor, so he might just buck the trend and go for reasons other than money."
Lydiate was not considered for the 35-man squad because of injury, while the celebrity centre Gavin Henson was omitted because he has played so little rugby of late. "He's thoroughly enjoying his time at London Welsh, so we'll let him play and see where he is next season," Howley said, in naming a single uncapped player in the Ospreys front-rower Aaron Jarvis.
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