By Andrew Collins
May 7 2015
The term ‘law’ is misleading. It implies some sort of authority and rule. Perhaps a better name would be Gatland’s Flexible Ideal, or Gatland’s Empty Threat.
So, the news we all expected has been confirmed; even before Roberts has officially announced his move to Harlequins, Gatland has come out publically and said that the former Cardiff centre will not lose his Welsh place.
What a surprise.
The idea - whereby any player playing outside of Wales will not be picked for Wales - was first mooted in 2008 during the early stages of the Kiwi’s tenure. At the time it was suggested that all home-based players would get preferential treatment in regard to Welsh international places.
It was largely supported by fans, who were starting to become aware of the money available to French clubs, and it was hoped this would be a way of keeping home-grown players in Wales where the fans can see them on a weekly basis. However, it was never implemented.
It was mentioned every time a new player headed abroad - James Hook seemed to become a victim of it as he fell of the radar a little during his time with Perpignan, as too did Lee Bryne - however the exact details of the ‘law’ were never clearly set out and it all felt abit muddled.
As the French exodus continued, pressure mounted on gatland and the WRU to install a clear rule.
Phillips, Hook, Charteris, Bryne, Lydiate, North, Roberts, Lydiate, Evans, Hibbard, Halfpenny and many more left the Wales in search of new experience, higher standard of rugby and inflated salaries. The regions were losing their best players every season, but Gatland still refused to draw a clear line in the sand which the 4 Welsh pro teams could use to tempt players to stay at home.
Then last year, after months of brutal negotiations, Gatland’s Law was written into the new Participation Agreement, signed by the WRU and Pro Rugby Wales.
It stipulated that, following the 6th centrally contracted player signing to the WRU’s books, any player who opts to move abroad or not return home from outside of Wales (assuming an offer is in place) will not be part of Gatland’s national team.
It was a big statement to our international stars. Stay in Wales, sign a central/club contract or sacrifice your international career.
And at first, the signs were encouraging. Rhys Priestland admitted that his move to bath was putting his Wales career in serious doubt. Just last month he said,
"I sort of knew that when I signed for Bath I would not be doing myself any favours internationally, but I felt as if I needed a different challenge.I can't see into the future and what it will mean to me internationally, but I want to play for Wales. I made the decision and I have to live with that now.”
But following Gatland’s comments today, it’s clear that no such rule exists. It’s a sham. It’s saying one thing and doing another.
"There's not a hard and fast rule as there is with England. There are exceptions where players have been playing outside of Wales and there are one or two wildcards we could pick.
Talk of ‘wildcards’ and ‘no hard or fast rule’ means there may as well not be a rule in the first place! Can we please just scrap this whole notion, as it clearly holds no water in practise and is frankly embarrassing.
Speaking with a friend the other day, I think the fairest way to manage this situation, for both player and club, is to say that if you want to play for Wales, you must play in Wales until you turn 28 years old. At 28, it’s likely that your club have had around 6-8 good years service in return for their investment. It means that the player can put everything into the club game knowing they will have the chance to move abroad when they’re old enough and have earnt the right to do so. It means Wales can develop players to their prime, knowing they have international quality players abroad to call up, while having fewer 33+ year olds blocking youth players coming through the ranks. It gives the player about 4-6 years to earn big money and gain new experiences, as they should be allowed.
Unfortunately, that would be a bit too straightforward for Warren.