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Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 14:44 GMT
Welsh regions support player plan
The WRU hopes keeping players in Wales will boost the Test team
The WRU hopes keeping players in Wales will boost the Test team
The four Welsh regional sides have welcomed the plan to try to prevent Welsh players leaving the country.

Players have been warned by the Welsh Rugby Union that they may jeopardise international selection if they play their club rugby overseas in future.

On Friday Cardiff Blues, Llanelli Scarlets, the Ospreys and Newport Gwent Dragons gave their backing to the plan.

"This policy will encourage more of our best players to seek to play rugby in Wales," read a joint statement.

"It will promote a clear pathway through the grass roots into our academies and on to Welsh regional rugby, and ultimately the senior international stage.

"This will encourage our best players to develop their careers under the watchful eyes of the strong regional and national structures in place here in Wales.

Bruce P

"The ultimate winner will be Welsh rugby itself as we will be able to achieve our stated aims of identifying, nurturing and developing all the talent out there in Wales.

"Player welfare is also a key area we will be able to oversee and coordinate under this strategy."

The plan is now likely to be approved as policy when it is put before the full WRU board for approval on 24 January.

Llanelli Scarlets chief executive Stuart Gallacher and Newport Gwent Dragons coach Paul Turner had already given their backing to the plan in interviews with BBC Sport Wales, although Turner has some misgivings.

Gallacher said the move was "good news for Wales" and "a very brave statement, one I totally support".

Turner also backed the plan, but believes the policy could backfire.

He said: "I admire the Union for putting out that sort of statement, but I don't think a lot has changed.

"If the player is good enough it puts pressure on the regions to match the monetary lure from England or France."

But Gallacher said: "The more our international players are playing in domestic competitions here in Wales, the more it benefits everyone."

WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis and Wales coach Warren Gatland issued a joint statement on Thursday that left no doubt they expect Wales-qualified players to play for the four Welsh regions.

Players already contracted to non-Welsh teams are exempt from the new regime, but in future Welsh players will be expected to tie themselves to the Ospreys, Dragons, Cardiff Blues or Llanelli Scarlets.

However, Turner told BBC Radio Wales' Scrum V on the Radio programme that it would be difficult to overcome market forces.

He also believes that playing for an English club should not physically interfere with Welsh players' commitment to Wales training sessions.

"We've got to keep all our players in Wales if we can, but I don't think you'll ever stop the players' right to go and look for employment wherever they see fit," Turner added.

If Dwayne Peel and Mike Phillips go overseas, I couldn't for one second believe that Warren Gatland wouldn't consider them

Welsh Rugby Players' Association chief executive Richard Harry

"There's only a river between us and England and it's quite easy - there's two bridges nowadays! - to get over there and back."

Turner revealed that he is in negotiations himself to continue as Dragons head coach and said he hopes that an agreement with the region's board could be reached soon, possibly "within the next 24 hours".

Welsh Rugby Players' Association chief executive Richard Harry also said that the WRU's plan was laudable, but added that players must be allowed the opportunity to maximise their earnings.

"It would be something that players would need to consider, but I suspect that in practice it would not stop any player seriously considering a lucrative contract from overseas," Harry said.

"The realities of professional rugby will perhaps override that, it's a very short career.

"In an ideal world we'd want all our best players playing in Wales, where the four regions are all competitive and with players in each position who are vying for a starting position in the Wales team.

"But I'm not sure that what has been suggested is the best way to bring that about, although they've (the WRU) tried to be very careful in what they've said.

"The problem the Union sees at the moment - which is lack of depth - is why it wouldn't work, in the short-term certainly.

"If, for instance, let's say (scrum-halves) Dwayne Peel and Mike Phillips go overseas, I couldn't for one second believe that Warren Gatland wouldn't consider them for the national team."

Sale Sharks and Wales lock Brent Cockbain echoed similar views adding: "If you're at a Welsh region and you want to change, you would only have three other options and it really does limit your market."

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