Roberts decides it is the 'correct time' for him to join Welsh exodus
Centre turns down lucrative new contract with Blues as he seeks to broaden horizons
The exodus of Welsh talent is set to continue with Jamie Roberts, who informed the Blues yesterday that he will not be renewing his contract at Cardiff next year despite an offer that would have made him the highest-paid player in Wales.
Roberts has been linked with Racing Métro in Paris, which would make him the seventh front-line Welshman to commit to the Top 14. Roberts said: "I am proud of what I have achieved so far in my rugby playing career and remain determined to win international honours for Wales.
"This has been an extremely difficult decision, but I am absolutely certain it is the correct time for me to enter a new stage of my career. My intention is to emerge from the experience of playing for a new team as a better rugby player and to broaden my personal horizons in a new environment.
"I owe a great deal to Wales and to Welsh rugby and I retain today the pride I felt in 2008 when I first pulled on the international jersey for my country of birth. I have enjoyed an incredible time at Cardiff Blues in the company of some great players, coaches, administrators and fans who have helped shape my career."
Roberts has yet to declare his intentions regarding his destination, though by definition any move takes him out of the jurisdiction of the WRU. The issue of foreign-based players was brought sharply into focus by the exclusion of Mike Phillips, who plays at Bayonne, from the starting line-up to face Argentina in Cardiff tomorrow.
Phillips was unavailable to Rob Howley for the Wales training camp in Poland. That, more than his indifferent form at Bayonne, forced Howley's hand. The national coach is duty-bound to promote and support domestic rugby in Wales and, if that means the exclusion of foreign-based players for some matches, so be it.
The players are blameless in seeking riches beyond the pocket of the local regions, leaving the authorities in Wales with a growing problem to solve if they are to retain their elite performers and revive the fortunes of Welsh club rugby, the state of which is exemplified by the failure of the four regional sides to make any impact in Heineken Cup campaigns.
The Cardiff Blues chief executive, Richard Holland, said: "The offer that we made to Jamie was an extremely attractive one and would have seen him become certainly the highest-paid player in the Blues squad, and arguably in the UK."
Holland believes cash support from the WRU would not have kept Roberts in Cardiff. Nevertheless, it is clear that greater central funding is required to prevent a wholesale drain on Welsh resources. The Blues chairman, Peter Thomas, called once more for the WRU to assume responsibility for the funding of professional club rugby.
"We have invested a lot of time, money and effort developing Jamie as a rugby player from an early age after identifying him as a star of the future," Thomas said. "We have stuck by him through thick and thin and supported him during last season when he only completed two matches for the Blues because of his knee injury and international duties.
"It is impossible for the Welsh regions to compete with the kind of money that is on offer from other clubs in other countries. The time has come that the Welsh benefactors should not be responsible for funding the professional game. The chairmen of the regions can guide companies but if we want to keep Jamie Roberts and other international players in Wales then the governing body has to intervene."
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