Do you ever wonder if sports governing bodies and national panels think before making decisions that will have massive repercussions on their team?
You would think this would be a no-brainer, that any rule – or rule amendment – being put in place would be one that makes things easier at the highest levels of the game. In rugby union though. this level of common sense ceases to exist at the governing level all over the world.
It was announced this week that Wales will introduce a much more clear policy on players playing their club rugby for non-Welsh clubs. In fairness, this is a decision that makes sense given the general ambiguity of the “Gatland Law” that preceded this change. In that policy, it seemed arbitrary who would be picked for games when playing outside the country and, while there was a rule in place, Gatland could pick whoever he wanted regardless and some excuse would be made to allow for the selection.
The new policy set to be introduced next season is a change to the senior international selection policy for players based outside of Wales. It is a clear-cut and obvious figure, as a player must have won 60 caps for Wales to be eligible for selection. The policy makes an exemption for players currently playing outside Wales, but it leaves Gatland in a position where he is about to lose his starting scrum-half.
Rhys Webb is contracted to move to Toulon next season having only played 26 times for Wales to date. Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal has quickly come out and said he would release Webb from his future duties, but only if the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) will pay the buyout to cancel the contract. This is bad news for Gatland who had been hoping that Webb had only signed a letter of intent with the French club.
Perhaps even more interesting is the case of Dan Biggar. The Welsh first-choice fly-half has 56 caps to date, meaning he needs to make four appearances for Wales over the rest of this season before he moves to the Northampton Saints.
What though if Biggar gets injured over the next month or so? What if he tears a knee ligament that rules him out for nine months and he isn’t fit and able to play in those four games? Would the Welsh team have to sub Biggar on late in those games, knowing full well he can’t even run, just to get his cap total up?
It doesn’t take a genius to see that this whole situation makes a mockery of the game. A simple fix in the wording of the law would allow any player with a contract already signed for next season to also be exempt from the policy. Rugby is trying so hard not to fall into the football trap of all the players moving to the big money leagues that certain countries (Argentina, South Africa, and now Wales) are making themselves worse at the international level with stupid policies that just hurt the game.
Webb has played for 10 years with the Ospreys, accumulating 139 appearances and developing into one of the best scrum-halves in the Northern Hemisphere. Now he will have to sit out the 2019 World Cup because of a selection policy change he wasn’t even informed about when he was deciding his future.
Something about that just isn’t right.
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