Posts Tagged ‘ salary caps ’

Central contracts and all that…

What a palaver Welsh rugby seems to be in at the moment. The most promising start to a Six Nations since 2008, arguably the most successful World Cup effort ever, while the national team can pull a crowd of 13,000 just to see them go through a light contact training session – things have never been better eh? Not if you have anything to do with a Welsh region it would seem. We’ve mulled over the problems of nobody watching Welsh club rugby anymore, though the recent return of the Cardiff Blues to their homeland has seen the sorts of crowds you expect to see when rugby is played where it is supposed to be played…but let’s not get into club v regions again, everyone is a little tired of that these days.

No, now the problem is players, and holding on to them. It seems that in the space of a season, Wales is suddenly home to the most attractive rugby playing commodities in Europe, and everyone, well, the French and English at least, want a piece of the pie. Gethin Jenkins is off to France, we understand in a reaction to Cardiff head honcho Peter Thomas announcing players would no longer be paid while on international duty – something which must on some levels be very hard to argue with. So central contracts come up once again.

It’s an idea that comes around every season or so, whispered in quiet corners where the WRU can’t hear, except now it seems that the majority in Welsh rugby are screaming about central contracts, directly in to the faces of the Welsh Rugby Union.  Given the salary caps and budgetary problems faced by all the Welsh regions, seeing your most heavily paid assets disappear for half the year can’t be easy – akin to allowing your left arm to go on holiday for 2 out of every 5 working weekdays – it would at the very least inconvenience you. So central contracts offer a certain fairness and sensibility to the proceedings, and after all, the WRU these days is not the lumbering debt ridden beast of old, it is a financial machine, geared towards profitability and turn over, surely they have a penny or two set aside to cover such an initiative?

However, the problem facing the concept is there is nothing to say that it would in any way improve the current situation. The majority of Welsh stars turn out for Welsh regions anyway, yet the crowds don’t come, and the results in Europe are rare. Though many might cry ‘but what of the national team’? Well, it was widely accepted that Stephen Jones was reinvented as a player having spent time in France, while both James Hook and Mike Phillips seem to be undergoing somewhat of a renaissance in their southern surroundings. When central contracts come up, I am often left wondering why it is a bad thing to let the French and English cover the costs of enhancing Welsh players – after all, the French are not looking to block Welsh talent, if they are investing in it, then they will look to make the most of the product.

On top of that, how many players can Welsh rugby sustain anyway? If we take the Scarlets for instance, here is a club that has invested heavily in local youth development, and has produced a raw team littered with international potential. They might not be able to hold onto every single player, but is it necessary? When Dwayne Peel left many lamented his loss to the Welsh game – but did Welsh rugby really miss him after all? If the entire first XV of the Welsh national team were to play abroad, would the system collapse? No is the simple answer. Would training for the national team be harder, potentially, but one would hope that those travelling overseas would still look to prioritise Wales, yet if they are not so inclined, then why would we consider them for the Welsh team in the first place?  Like the regional system or not, it is hard, when looking at the current Welsh squad, to suggest that it is not working, the players coming out of it are very good for something that is in theory broken – if some go to France, there are others waiting for their chance.

This is of course not to say that the idea of central contracts is a bad one, and in theory, keeping all of the Welsh international team at home should be a good thing for the nation, regions and clubs. That being said, what evidence that we do have does not suggest that when we do have all these assets at home, that the positives necessarily occur, and likewise, for those examples of players going overseas, it has not always been the great evil some fear it to be.

One way for the regions to go would be to invest in the local talent, and invest in the local fans. Get this right, and the player resources and finances to sustain it will be there for the future, get those things wrong and however many central contracts are thrown around, will do nothing for the future of the game or the survival of Welsh rugby, be it at club, regional or international level.

Ben Morgan: Time to Sell.

Nobody in Wales should have anything other than respect for the decision made by Scarlets no8 Ben Morgan, to commit himself to England. As Morgan has stated today, he grew up watching England, and dreamed of playing for them, frankly, Welsh fans should have been more concerned if such a player did throw his lot in with the Welsh set-up, the motivation behind such a move would have been questionable at best. It is of course a disappointment for Welsh fans, no shortage of attention has been given to Morgan as he developed as a player in West Wales, and few in Wales will deny that there were genuine hopes that Morgan would at the very least offer competition for Faletau for the Welsh 8 shirt.

However, as much as Welsh rugby fans should respect the integrity displayed by Morgan’s choice (remember, there is no sign of England selecting him, he is just indicating where his loyalties lie – he might have given up on an international career by turning his back on by Wales, it is a chance he has taken, and that as well should be remembered and respected), there is now an onus on the Scarlets to act.  With this one decision, Morgan has gone from being a promising Wales prospect, to an Englishman blocking a Welsh regional development spot. At a time when salary caps are coming, and more and more non-Welsh qualified players are being worked out of the regional squads (and quite right too), all of a sudden the Scarlets face a choice, and it is one that must be faced by a number of the regions in Wales.

There is a danger that Morgan will remain with the Scarlets now until his contract runs out, and he leaves for an English team, no questions asked, no money exchanged. What the Scarlets should off course do is sell the prospect. English and French clubs will have a blank cheque approach for only so long, and those hard up in Wales should take advantage of it while it lasts. I have often wondered for instance, how the sale of a player like George North would benefit the wider world of Welsh rugby, with the sustaining impact of a single big sale supporting salaries of many more Welsh players. Well, this is an easy one for the Scarlets, Morgan is not Welsh, and is under contract. The club should give serious consideration towards doing what is right for Welsh rugby, and Morgan’s sale would bring in the money that might cover the wages or one, two, three, maybe more Welsh qualified players.

Morgan has done what is right by him, and all should respect him for that, the Scarlets now must do what is right by Welsh rugby, and supporting a player who is now blocking the development of the next Welsh No8 does nothing for that.