Finally, after nearly two years of being at loggerheads, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the Welsh rugby regions have come to an agreement on how regional and national rugby can work together. I blogged here about the predicament of Wales captain Sam Warburton, because of the ongoing dispute. With this new agreement, Warburton will be able to return to playing for the Cardiff Blues after missing some of their pre-season warm-up matches.
The agreement, which is valid until 2020, sets out a number of important points. These include an emphasis on Welsh coach Warren Gatland only picking players based in Wales (although current foreign-based players will be exempt), and an attempt to stem the drain of Welsh players abroad by allowing key players to be on a dual contract shared by a region and the WRU. Warburton may well be the first player to be put on such a dual contract.
This agreement obviously puts even more control of the shape of the Welsh squad into Warren Gatland’s hands as it will be he who decides who goes on a dual contract (the agreement specifics a minimum of six players to have such a contract). He will also decide which foreign-placed players will be given leniency under this new agreement.
Of course it is debatable what effect having home-based players has on the success of a national team. In football it is quite common for most of a national team’s squad to be based outside of the country; countries like Brazil, Argentina and France spring to mind. But, in rugby the only top teams I can think of that have a substantial fraction of their players based abroad are Wales, Argentina, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. However, clearly to have a strong domestic game Wales needs to keep more of her top players in Wales. Hopefully this new agreement will help achieve that.