The Welsh Rugby Union have confirmed that the controversial ‘Gatland’s Law’ will be changed to follow the selection model enforced by Australia, meaning that any players based outside of Wales will be eligible to play for the national team providing they have received at least 60 caps.
The changes to the Senior Selection Policy were announced on Monday afternoon by the WRU chief executive Martyn Thomas, with head coach Warren Gatland having an influential say in the new rules following the latest crop of players leaving the country for pastures abroad.
Under the previous policy, which was introduced under Gatland’s reign in August 2014, the New Zealander was able to select up to three players who are based outside of Wales. The initial plan was for that allocation to be increased to four this season, but the summer move of wing Liam Williams to Saracens and the agreed deals to take scrum-half Rhys Webb and fly-half Dan Biggar to Toulon and Northampton Saints respectively has changed the plan.
The new selection policy, which will be implemented with immediate effect, means that leading Premiership names in George North, Taulupe Faletau and Jamie Roberts are all eligible to continue playing for Wales as they have surpassed the 60-cap threshold, while Gloucester’s Ross Moriarty and Owen Williams, Exeter Chiefs prop Tomas Francis and Saracens back Williams will all remain eligible until their current contracts expire.
Biggar currently has 56 caps to his name and should cross the 60-cap barrier before he leaves the Ospreys at the end of the season to move to Franklin’s Gardens, but the 28-cap Webb looks certain to miss the 2019 Rugby World Cup despite Toulon’s claim last week that that “a fair deal has been found in good faith with regard to his national selection in the interest of both parties.”
With Webb contracted to Toulon from next summer until 2021, the scrum-half appears to be at a crossroads regarding his international future. Both 17-cap Moriarty and 23-cap Francis face similar questions, with their current deals up for renewal in the summer of 2018 and 2019 respectively, while Williams cannot reach 60 caps before his Gloucester deal expires. Both Moriarty and Francis have been linked with moves to Wales with the allure of a National Dual Contract [NDC] seeing partially-funded deals from the WRU helping the four regions retain the leading international players.
However, Gatland did confirm that he will use the next three weeks ahead of the autumn international to speak with those players abroad about their intentions and whether a return to Wales is in their future plans, with the British and Irish Lions coach ready to consider dropping them if they don’t figure in future plans.
“Thinking about players who are coming out of contract and what potentially their decisions are, ones that are playing outside of Wales, are they going to be moving back to Wales?” Gatland said.
“So I think in the next few weeks there’s a few potentially couple of tough decisions to make, but hopefully those get ironed out.
“But going back to the policy, we think this is a policy that is easier for people to understand and yes we know there is always going to be a bit of pain when you put things in place, there’s going to be a bit of ambiguity, one or two players that might get caught up in the crossfire so to speak but we’ve potentially got to work through that, take a hit on that and hopefully that fits purpose in terms of what we’re trying to do.”
Any uncapped players will be considered for selection, providing the next contract that they sign is with one of the four Welsh regions, meaning that Bath’s Max Clark would remain in contention for Wales as he is yet to commit to either England or Wales despite representing the former at youth level.
All exiled players will still be eligible for other Welsh national teams such as the Sevens, A-side and youth teams as the policy only applies to the senior squad.
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