Webb's place in danger as Wales change selection policy

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 08:00
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UPDATE: Wales scrumhalf Rhys Webb is in danger of becoming the first high-profile casualty of his country's new selection policy.

British and Irish Lions star Webb has agreed to leave Pro14 outfit Ospreys to join French club Toulon next season.

But the 28-year-old learned on Monday that he could be ineligible for national duty in the future after Welsh rugby chiefs announced changes to their international selection policy in an attempt to stem the exodus of talent from the country.

Under the new rules, which take effect immediately, players based abroad with 60 caps or more will be eligible to represent Wales.

Until now, players based outside Wales required one of four wildcard picks to represent their country under the so-called "Gatland's Law". 

That system was designed to keep players in Wales but it did not work, with a clutch of star names currently in the English Premiership including George North, Liam Williams, Jamie Roberts and Taulupe Faletau.

Dan Biggar, who will join Northampton next season, currently has 56 caps, but he is likely to hit the 60-mark this season with Wales having four November Tests and then a Six Nations campaign.

If Webb's Toulon move goes ahead, the 28 times-capped star would be caught by the new policy and ruled ineligible.

"I am very disappointed at the news because I love playing for Wales. It means a huge amount to me," Webb was quoted as saying by WalesOnline.

"It's a real blow that I won't be able to play international rugby from next season.

"I didn't know the full implications when I agreed to join Toulon because the change in the selection policy came out after I signed.

"I have given 10 years service to the Ospreys and Welsh rugby and have picked up injuries along the way. I would have hoped that would have been taken into consideration.

"I still very much want to play for Wales this season and hope I can gain selection for the autumn [November] international squad."

An exception to the rule is 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 their deal.

"Whatever contract that a player is on today, that contract is protected," Welsh Rugby Union Chief Executive Martyn Phillips said.

"When that contract expires and if the player has fewer than 60 caps, they would not be eligible for selection. If they have 60 or more caps and they are outside Wales they would be."

Wales head coach Warren Gatland said: "For me as a national coach, if I was being perfectly selfish, would I have a policy? No, I wouldn't. 

"It is not about me or the national team, it is about what is the best thing for Welsh rugby.

"I had a good conversation with Rhys. He is 28, has had injuries, he is thinking about himself, his future and his family, and so he may have made that decision whether he was captured or not.

"He can still get out of his Toulon contract. He has just signed a letter of agreement. He has not signed a full contact with Toulon. He needs to make his own decision."

Agence France-Presse