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Welsh Rugby Union to offer star names central contracts

Meanwhile, there are plans to include play-offs in the qualification process for the Rugby Champions Cup

Leigh Halfpenny has been linked with a move to Toulon.
Leigh Halfpenny has been linked with a move to Toulon.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

WITH THE UNCERTAINTY over the future of European rugby rumbling on despite the ERC stakeholders meeting in Dublin yesterday and today, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has made an offer to its four regional sides to centrally contract the country’s top players.

The move would see the likes of Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies and Ian Evans – who are all out of contract next summer – presented with new deals by the WRU in order to keep them in the country.

The Welsh governing body’s decision demonstrates the unease over the future of European rugby, despite the regions’ vow of support for the proposed Rugby Champions Cup. The idea behind the central contracts is to “re-assign” the players back to the regions once there is certainty around a European tournament in 2014-15.

Speaking about the proposed measure, the WRU said:

Due to the length of the ongoing European negotiations the Welsh Regions have expressed concerns about their ability to conclude their own negotiations with leading players who are approaching the end of their existing contracts.

“To help and support the four Welsh Regions the WRU has offered to immediately assist to enable the Regions to retain their leading Welsh qualified players in Wales.”

WRU chief executive Roger Lewis told WalesOnline that he remains positive that a European solution will be reached.

“I want to make it clear to our players that we have full confidence in the future of the elite game in Wales. It is important that any player considering his future right now fully understands the level of support the WRU is prepared to offer.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Craig, the Bath chairman and vice-president of Premiership Rugby, has stated that the final two spots in next season’s proposed Rugby Champions Cup will be decided by play-offs.

It is for certain there will be play-offs for one or two places in May,” Craig told AFP. “The play-offs could be made up of the teams that finish seventh or eighth in their respective championships.

“The play-offs would be interesting matches, with something at stake, involving teams who normally by that stage of the season have nothing to play for.”

The Rugby Champions Cup has been proposed as being made-up with is six teams from the Aviva Premiership, six from the Top 14 and six from the RaboDirect PRO12. The remaining two spots would come from these play-offs.

The ERC stakeholders meetings in Dublin continue this morning, and it will be fascinating to find out if there is any meaningful progress made. The Welsh Rugby Union has been public in the measures it is making to ensure its future and tie its best players to staying in the country. The hope is that the IRFU have drawn up their own plans privately at least.

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