Welsh rugby has reviewed its Senior Player Selection Policy (SPSP) & made significant changes, effective immediately, which will further the aim of retaining talent in Wales during their prime years.

Katie Vizard | 16/10/2017

The changes will benefit the Welsh national team, regions and clubs and provide clarity for the players they affect.

The new SPSP will incentivise the majority of Welsh international talent, both potential and existing, to play their domestic rugby at one of the four Welsh regions. 

One important caveat to the new eligibility policy - which means the national head coach will select Wales squad players exclusively from the pool of home talent available - is the exception made for any player who has been capped 60-times or more.

But, as this new 60-cap clause comes in, the former ‘Wildcard’ system is removed in its entirety, meaning no player with less caps will be selected for Wales if they ply their trade outside of the country. 

The only exceptions to the rule are call ups for uncapped players currently contracted outside of Wales - to keep their eligibility a newly capped player will be required to return to Wales at the expiration of the contract in place at the point of call up.

As with any change of policy, the new system is not retrospective and allows players currently contracted outside of Wales to be selected during the term of their current deals.

For clarity, as of Monday 16th October current playing contracts will be respected and fall outside the parameters of the new policy – beyond this the only exceptions are players who hold 60 caps or more and uncapped players currently playing outside of Wales. 

“The policy published in 2014 has played an important role in incentivising our rugby talent to remain in, or return to, our regional game,” said WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips.

“But we have spent a significant amount of time with national team management and the regions evaluating its merits.

“Our role is to ensure that any selection policy is ‘fit for purpose’, achieves our collective aims and works for the greater good of the whole of Welsh rugby.

We have decided to makes these changes to  protect the ‘investment’ made by Welsh rugby - by our coaches, supporters, clubs, communities and fellow team members - in those individuals who rise to the top and make it to international rugby.

“We have established a clear incentive for those players approaching the prime of their rugby playing careers to stay in Wales and it is now there in black and white for everyone to see.

“The revamped policy will be reviewed periodically but, fundamentally, if you have less than 60 caps and you leave Wales then you won’t be selected by your country again until you return.

“In the spirit of absolute fairness we will start anew from Monday 16th October 2017 and give those players who have existing contracts outside of Wales the chance to come back on completion of those contracts, before this new policy effects them.

“We also recognise that players will reach a stage in their careers when the draw of an overseas contract may become overwhelming.

“For those players who have played 60-times or more for Wales we believe that they have already returned the financial, emotional and practical investment made in them by everyone involved in Welsh rugby and, although best efforts will also be made to keep players who fall into this category, they will not be penalised in recognition of the loyalty and application they will have exhibited to reach this stage in their careers.

“We will still do as much as possible to retain this talent, but it is conceded that this standard of player deserves to still be considered for selection and is potentially making an invaluable contribution to the national cause.”

The new SPSP has been formulated by mutual agreement of the WRU and the four professional regions in Wales, is part of the ‘Rugby Services Agreement’ which ties all five organisations together and will be policed by the ‘Rugby Management Board’ (RMB) upon which each party sits.

The policy will be reviewed on a bi-annual basis and the RMB retains the right to consider exceptional circumstances, but many of the caveats inserted in the first version of the SPSP have been removed after the group agreed that the newly established working relationship between the WRU and the regions would be sufficient to underpin the agreement.

The policy will also be supported by the introduction of salary bands, to be established by the RMB and a Non Welsh Qualified Player Quota – which again will be set by the RMB.

“We have worked closely on this new policy with our four regions, evaluating what was working from the original document and looking at key areas for improvement,” added Phillips.

“We now think we have a policy with real teeth, which is clear and obvious for all parties to understand and is designed in the best interests of the players, the regional game and our national side alike.

“There is a focus and concentration on player retention, significantly at a point in a player’s career when they perhaps could be most tempted to leave, but which could be most disruptive to the planning, progression and success of Welsh rugby in general.

“By keeping a player in Wales, encouraging a senior player to return or attracting new Welsh qualified talent in the prime of their careers, we are acting in the best interests of the game in Wales as a whole.

“On the subject of unearthing and attracting new, Welsh qualified, talent to Welsh rugby, we have also considered what would happen if a hitherto unknown player was capped at a future date whilst playing at an overseas club.

“In this instance, they would remain in contention for selection until such time as their current contract expired – at that time we would expect that individual to join a Welsh region in order to continue to be selected.

“In this way Welsh talent can not only be retained, but also attracted to Welsh rugby and we have an established ‘exiles’ programme to support this ambition.

“We are confident we have a policy here that can work for everyone in the game and which will have a directly positive effect on our future sustainability and success at both regional and national levels.”

Mark Davies, chief executive of Pro Rugby Wales which represents the interests of the four professional teams in Wales said:

“Our significant investment in building effective structures and pathways over time have resulted in us being perhaps the most effective rugby nation at developing home-grown talent from a very small population and player base.

“Our experience demonstrates that an essential element in the development of young players is the leadership and guidance offered by experienced senior players both on and off the field.

“So it is essential that we strive to constantly improve our all-round environment to ensure we do all we can to retain the current and particularly the next generation of internationals players in Wales, to secure both development and future performance for both our professional teams and the national side.

“The evolution of the Senior Player Selection Policy is much more aligned to our original intention and will work more effectively for players, our clubs and the national squad.

“We have worked hard together for some time now on an improved version of the policy and we believe this will have a positive impact on Welsh rugby as a whole.”

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