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Exeter address the question of Joe Hawkins' availability for Wales

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Lorenzo Di Cola/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has explained that he signed Joe Hawkins with the expectation that the youngster wouldn’t be at Sandy Park the whole time as he would be away representing Wales. Debate about the eligibility of non-Welsh-based players playing for Warren Gatland’s team erupted again at the start of this week when it was confirmed that the 20-year-old – who made his Test debut last November versus Australia – had quit Ospreys for a switch to the Gallagher Premiership.


Hawkins went on to start four more times for Wales at inside centre in the recent Guinness Six Nations, but the confirmation of his Exeter deal has since ignited a dispute over whether he can continue to be selected by Gatland ahead of the upcoming finals in France.

Professional rugby board chair Malcolm Wall doesn’t expect Hawkins to be eligible for Wales as the centre’s total of five caps falls significantly short of the current 25 caps needed to represent them while signed to a club outside the country. Wales’ previous selection policy for exiled players of 60 caps did have dispensation clauses, but it is unclear whether the revised agreement contains any.

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Hawkins’ new Exeter contract will start on July 1 and Baxter, who had tracked the youngster as far back as his U20s debut for Wales in 2020, claimed that Test eligibility wasn’t much of a part of their recent contract negotiations. “I’ll be honest, no, not really,” he said at his midweek media briefing ahead of the Chiefs’ Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at home to the Stormers this Saturday.

“Listen, I know there is a lot of people that want to know all about him, but I can’t give you confidential information on a player’s signed agreements, contracts etc. I am just not allowed to. I’d be breaking all kinds of rules and regs on the confidentiality clauses within the contract, but we have not talked about it.


“All this started so far before any eligibility rules came about and the WRU asked me the same question. I said to them I can only release paperwork with the player’s permission, so as far as I know they will sort that out with the player and the player’s agent and it’s for them to provide all the information and not for me to talk out of house. I don’t see it as being a problem because of the timing when we got everything signed, but that is all I can say.”

Asked if he expected Hawkins to be available to Wales at the World Cup in September, Baxter added: “Yes, if selected as an eligible Wales player. We haven’t signed him with expectation that he won’t be playing for Wales. I have not got expectation that he is going to be here. My expectation is if selected he will be playing for Wales.


“When did he first come on our radar? Probably three years ago, maybe longer. Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza, we were watching those guys playing U20s and that is where we first saw Joe Hawkins. I watched quite a few Wales U20s games that he captained. Oli Burrows might have featured around then as well, and Dan John.

“I was watching quite a lot of that rugby and really since then, we have been following him, tracking him. Those other guys were heading towards the university route, which made it a process that worked for us. If that had been the route that Joe had initially started off when we first started watching, we may have well really started trying to get a contract in place that far ago.

“As it is, it started to happen more over the last couple of months because we were aware things would be changing here (at Exeter) and there would be a revamp in the squad. But it’s actually been a far longer process than people think.”

Baxter added: “We have had Dafydd here for a couple of years and he has walked past my office probably every three or four weeks saying, ‘Have you not signed Joe Hawkins yet?’ He has been doing that for two years. He has been a presence in and around the place for quite a while.


“We haven’t been able to discuss much about it because everyone is aware of the scenario in Wales around contracts. It put a lot of the Welsh players in a bit of an awkward situation and we had to keep things under cover. It’s been an ongoing process and I am really pleased to see how he has developed.

“The nice thing with the age he is we should expect some development for a long time, and I would like to think he potentially could be here for a long time. I’m not looking at him for two years, we want him to play for us and keep improving and hopefully become a core player in a team that can stay together for a long time and achieve some success together.”


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