Warren Gatland is disappointed to lose the services of Rhys Webb due to a change in selection policy but hopes “common sense would prevail” if an injury crisis left Wales short of options at scrum-half ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and Welsh regions have adopted a new policy requiring players to have amassed 60 caps or more if they are to remain eligible for national team duty while based at clubs outside of the country.
Webb, who has only 28 national team appearances to his name, agreed a switch to Toulon earlier this month, prior to the change in regulations which will now render him unable to play for his country.
Gatland has called up the outgoing Ospreys player for the internationals against Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa.
And the coach appears to remain hopeful that an exception can be made in the future to allow the British and Irish Lions player to return to the fold.
“He’s available for us at the moment and it’s disappointing from my perspective that he’s not going to be available potentially for selection for the World Cup,” Gatland told a news conference.
“There’s been a policy change where unfortunately Rhys Webb has been the one affected. But is the policy better than the one we had before?
“Absolutely, because if you looked at what was there we would have only been able to pick two wildcard players before the World Cup from a lot of players, potentially [Taulupe] Faletau, Webb, [George] North, [Dan] Biggar, Liam Williams and maybe a couple of others.
“Now those are available apart from Rhys Webb. He’s been captured but there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and the next 12 months. You never know what will happen with injuries and going to Toulon.
“I wasn’t involved in the discussions between the regions and the union. I was consulted about the number in terms of the caps. The regions were pushing for a 70-cap limit and I personally felt that was too high, so I was involved in discussions over the cap limit. But I was not involved in discussions when it came to agreeing this policy.”
Asked if a clause had been put in place that could potentially make Webb eligible in an exceptional circumstance, the New Zealander replied: “No. You’d like to think that if the situation came to a head, common sense would prevail and you would be able to do something. But at the moment we don’t have a policy like that.
“We are trying to make it as clear and black and white as we can. If there was a crisis at scrum-half you’d like to think common sense would prevail and people would allow that situation to evolve. But at this stage I don’t know what would happen.
“We are at the mercy of other people agreeing to something like that.”
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