Will we ever get through a season of rugby without a selection controversy surrounding English-based Welsh players?
The latest reared its head yesterday, as the trio of Josh Adams, Luke Charteris and Tomas Francis, all of whom play for Aviva Premiership clubs, were withdrawn from the Wales squad for their summer tour of Argentina.
As players for Premier Rugby Limited clubs, the three players have release to play for Wales during the international window, but they are not available to play the Springboks in Washington on June 2nd, as it falls outside of the upcoming window.
This has long been established as PRL’s policy in regard to international player release, it adheres fully to the regulations set out by World Rugby and yet, for whatever reason, Warren Gatland and the Welsh Rugby Union decided to test PRL’s resolve this summer by picking the trio as part of the squad that would take on the Boks.
Following the refusal from Worcester Warriors, Bath and Exeter Chiefs to release those players, the WRU has made the decision to withdraw them fully from the squad that will head on to Argentina after playing South Africa in Washington.
Those three clubs haven’t done anything wrong, they’ve abided by the rules set out by their governing body, whilst PRL has done nothing deceitful or petty, these are simply the requirements which players coming to the Premiership agree to and it holds true to players of all foreign nations.
The last thing PRL want to do is to set a precedent for players being released outside of windows, as this will only encourage more international fixtures to be scheduled during those periods. Both Northampton Saints and Bath have been fined in recent seasons for their releases of Taulupe Faletau and George North respectively, with Wales persistently playing extra games outside of the window in order to increase their revenues.
If the WRU is happy to compensate the Welsh regions for the loss of players outside of the window, much as the Rugby Football Union is content to do with Premiership clubs, then there is no drama or issue, but to expect a competition based in a different country, to whom you pay no compensation, to afford players the same release would seem hubristic.
There is no reason why Adams, Charteris and Francis couldn’t have joined the tour after it left the US and played roles in the two-match series with Argentina, but instead the WRU have looked to make an example of the situation.
By including – and then withdrawing – the three players, whilst knowing full well what PRL’s policy on player release is, they have attempted to create a furore and spectacle, one which, they hope, will encourage Welsh players based abroad to move back to Wales on contracts funded, in part, by these extra games outside of windows.
It’s not a bad plan.
In fact, it’s a smart plan, attempting to make the most of the limited resources available to the WRU.
That said, it’s a plan which has purposefully put these three players into the embarrassing situations of being withdrawn from the touring squad and having the media spotlight thrust upon them. They are victims, yes, but PRL aren’t the perpetrators of the crime.
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It’s easy to look to blame PRL.
As an organisation, they haven’t endeared themselves to everyone and with the season all but over, you can understand why some might say that PRL should just let it go and allow the players to join up early.
PRL clubs pay their players big wages to represent them, so why should they risk that player potentially picking up an injury that could leave them sidelined for months or worse, threaten their career, outside of the window? Again, the players were not in the dark or misled about this, this is the policy in the Premiership and they knew that when they joined the league or signed their most recent contracts.
To put it bluntly, it is not the responsibility of PRL to provide the players for the WRU to secure extra funding and they shouldn’t be branded as villains for that.
If the WRU are intent on playing more international matches in a season and want all their players to be available for those fixtures, then they need to approach World Rugby about expanding the international windows.
The motives behind the WRU’s actions are obvious and the potential long-term benefits to Welsh rugby are clear if this tactic does persuade Welsh players to move to the regions when their current contracts expire, but if you’re looking to blame someone for the situation affecting Adams, Charteris and Francis this summer, you need look no further than their own union.
The selection of the trio has been a tool for the WRU and that doesn’t sit well.
Hopefully the ends justify the means, because those three players certainly don’t deserve this.
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