Warburton breaks new ground

Sat, 25 Jan 2014 16:43
Flood of players leaving Wales

Wales captain Sam Warburton has become the first player from his country to sign a central contract, the Welsh Rugby Union announced on Saturday.

The 25-year-old flank's contract with the Cardiff Blues had been due to expire at the end of the season, but he has rejected the opportunity to join the exodus of leading players leaving the Welsh game.

"I am delighted to commit my future to Welsh rugby. I would like to thank the WRU for its commitment to me," Warburton said in a statement released by the WRU.

"I also want to take this opportunity to thank my agent, Derwyn Jones, who has supported and mentored me from a young age and always had my best interests at heart.

"Now that my future is secured within Wales, I look forward to focusing on the Six Nations and beyond."

Warburton, who captained the British and Irish Lions on their successful tour of Australia last year, will spearhead the Welsh challenge in the forthcoming Six Nations championship.

Under the terms of the agreement, the WRU will pay Warburton's salary but he will be released to play for the Blues at no cost to the region.

Troubled by the flood of players leaving Wales to join clubs in England and France in recent years, the WRU has been trying to devise ways of keeping the top Welsh talent in the country.

The organisation previously attempted to offer George North, now at Northampton, a deal to remain in Wales, only for the Welsh regions to reveal that they had an agreement not to field players with central contracts.

"We have been able to strike a deal which ensures the Welsh captain will continue to play his rugby at the highest level here in Wales," said WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis.

"I am extremely grateful to the Cardiff Blues chairman, Peter Thomas, for his understanding when the WRU chairman and I met him on Wednesday to outline this proposed plan.

"Welsh rugby together cannot stand back any longer and watch its best players leave Wales. We all have to act together and act now in the best interests of the game."

Warburton's decision to remain in Wales bucks the recent trend, with his international colleagues Mike Phillips, Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate, Luke Charteris, James Hook and Lee Byrne all currently playing in France.

Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and Ian Evans will all join them in the Top 14 next season, while North, Richard Hibbard, Paul James and Craig Mitchell are engaged with English Premiership sides.