WRU offers central contracts to top stars as Heineken Cup hullabaloo continues
THE WELSH Rugby Union has made a surprise move to offer central contacts to leading Wales players while the Heineken Cup rumpus rumbles on.
It has stepped in to halt the exodus of stars who are moving to France and England on lucrative contracts.
The future of Europe’s showcase club competition looks increasingly bleak with French and English clubs breaking away in a row over money, BT Vision securing a £152 million deal with Premiership Rugby.
The financial uncertainty has brought into question the viability of Wales captain Sam Warburton remaining with the Cardiff Blues.
But the WRU is now offering to put this year’s British and Irish Lions series-winning skipper and top players like fellow Blue Lee Halfpenny on central contracts until agreement is reached.
The offer is also designed to ensure players such as Ospreys captain Alun Wyn Jones and Scarlets stars Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams do not leave because of the inability of the Welsh regions to offer new deals.
In a statement the WRU said it has committed more than £33 million to the four regions over the course of the next five years to retain players in Wales, in addition to all of the Welsh revenues generated from the RaboDirect PRO12 league and any future European competitions.
It read: “The WRU is prepared to draw down from this £33 million investment immediately to secure the future of outstanding Welsh talent for Wales and assist the regions.”
WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis said: “I want to make it clear to our players that we have full confidence in the future of the elite game in Wales.
"It is important that any player considering his future right now fully understands the level of support the WRU is prepared to offer.
"It would be inappropriate to go into details about any negotiations or discussions which rightly have to be concluded in private, but I respect the concerns of the players at a time when our talks on Europe are continuing.
"Our squad is about to embark on a demanding autumn series of international games and it is vitally important that all of their minds are completely focused on the task in hand.
"I shared this proposal with the regional chairmen on Monday of this week and look forward to what I expect would be a positive response.”