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The Welsh Rugby Union must act now before it’s too late

The rumblings in the rugby undergrowth are that the Newport Gwent Dragons are going to lose Toby Faletau to France or possibly England, the only question seems to be when.

With Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts both announcing that they will be moving abroad in the summer too, these are worrying times for Wales. The exodus of players to France has gone from being a bit of a headache to becoming a complete nightmare for Welsh rugby.

Take the starting XV from Wales’ World Cup semi final against France in 2011. Five of them are now playing in France, two more have declared their intention to go, Shane Williams has retired and in Toby Faletau there is one with a major question mark over his head.

That leaves just five players with their long term future committed to Welsh regional rugby, a far from ideal situation for a Union which has tried repeatedly to keep the top players playing in Wales.

Or so it seems. Yes the WRU has made all the right noises about wanting to keep players playing in France but ultimately it has failed to really do anything about it.

There is one major reason for players leaving Wales for France – money. That is not a dig at the players by the way, no, the difference in wages they can make are astronomical and in a career as short as a rugby career players are well within their rights to chase what they can.

Indeed you only have to look at the news yesterday of Hendre Fourie’s retirement due to injury, a rugby career can be cut short without any warning or sentiment, it is no surprise to see players do what they can to guard against that pain financially.

Clearly then the Welsh regions cannot afford to keep the best talent; their only hope of keeping it is to tug on a players loyalty. In a professional sport though that is simply not enough.

Why then has the WRU not followed the lead of the IRFU and issued central contracts? It might not be perfect, but frankly the regions are now in a position where they will accept almost any offer from the WRU.

The policy of not selecting players plying their trade outside of Wales is clearly past its time, the players are not stupid, they know that if enough of them leave then they will still be picked. The strength in depth is simply not there for the national side to do anything other than pick them.

Ireland are the example for Wales, and indeed Scotland, the success of their central contracting system cannot be argued with. Their regions are booming, Leinster have won three Heineken Cups, Munster two, Ulster are one of the top sides in Europe, even Connacht are improving and the IRFU makes no bones about the fact that they are essentially a development side.

So sort it out WRU, introduce central contracts, you can afford it, probably even better than the Irish can. It will help the regions, it will help Wales, and it will keep the best players in Wales, helping put bums on seats for the regions.

If you have them on a central contract, you can even decide when they play!

Why would you not?

Wales XV v France RWC 2011: 15.Leigh Halfpenny; 14.George North, 13.Jonathan Davies, 12.Jamie Roberts, 11.Shane Williams; 10.James Hook, 9.Mike Phillips; 1.Gethin Jenkins, 2.Huw Bennett, 3.Adam Jones, 4.Luke Charteris, 5.Alun Wyn Jones, 6.Dan Lydiate, 7.Sam Warburton (capt), 8.Toby Faletau.

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