Gatland not living in an ideal world
Wales coach Warren Gatland accepted the financial strength of French clubs is making it difficult to prevent players heading across the Channel.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has accepted the growing financial strength of French clubs is making it increasingly difficult to prevent his top players heading across the Channel.
Gatland is about to oversee Wales' defence of their Six Nations title with a squad where the likes of Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Dan Lydiate and Luke Charteris are all playing for French clubs.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny and centre Jonathan Davies are set to join them in the Top 14 next season, with the club future of Wales captain Sam Warburton yet to be decided.
And while the financial future of the club game in Wales is uncertain, amid a bitter dispute between the four regional teams and the Welsh Rugby Union, a Top 14 television deal worth some £60-million (€71-million, US$96-million) for each of the next five seasons is set to bolster French clubs' already strong purchasing power.
"Ideally, we would like players playing in Wales, but I am under no illusions, given the success of the Wales team and some players with the Lions," Gatland, who coached the British and Irish combined side to a 2-1 series win in Australia last year, said.
"I had a conversation with a player this week. He has been made a really attractive offer that is comparable to any offer an English side would make him, but when he is being offered double the money to go to France, it is hard for a player to turn away from those sort of opportunities, given his limited time in the game," the New Zealander added at the Six Nations launch in London.
"Our preference is to try to keep them in Wales, but it's market forces that are determining this. If you look at the new TV deal that has been done in the Top 14, rather than alleviate it, it might get worse.
"There is no doubt that the financial benefit of going to France is significant, but then the trade-off is not much of an off-season, being flogged in terms of the number of games, and the players would say that probably the medical/strength and conditioning is not quite as good."
Meanwhile Gatland hopes the lure of rugby's record books will help inspire his side when they begin their title defence against Italy in Cardiff on February 1.
The back-to-back champions are bidding for an unprecedented third straight Six Nations title, something not achieved by any nation throughout the tournament's various guises stretching back over more than 130 years.
"One of the things you can't coach is experience and we think we have got a bit of that at the moment," Gatland said.
"The other thing that is important from a coaching perspective is to have some players with X-factor, and we feel we have definitely got four or five players in the team that could potentially change a game, and it is nice to have that firepower."
He added: "We've already achieved a lot but we are not satisfied with that. Hopefully, we can go through a period of real sustained success for Wales.
"When I first arrived, the success of the 1970s Wales teams was rammed down their [players]) throats year after year. These players can leave behind a legacy of their own, and that is something we are conscious of."