Warburton's future dependant on Heineken Cup
October 1, 2013
Both Sam Warburton (left) and Jamie Heaslip (right) are on the radars of France's top clubs © PA Photos
Roger Lewis has conceded it will be harder for the Welsh Rugby Union to keep the country's top players in the regions if there is no European rugby on offer next season.
The WRU issued a statement last week saying the four regions - Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Scarlets and Ospreys - would not be permitted to join the new breakaway Rugby Champions Cup proposed by the Anglo-French clubs unless it receives ratification from the International Rugby Board.
Lewis, the WRU's CEO, is still optimistic compromise can be found over the future of the Heineken Cup despite Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby's stance that they see the time for negotiation to be over and both are fully committed to push ahead with the club-run tournament as opposed to the Union-run Heineken Cup.
Both PRL and LNR hold misgivings over the distribution of wealth and revenue within the current format of the Heineken Cup and Lewis can understand these gripes but is hopeful there will still be a European tournament next term.
"We have the finest competition in world rugby under threat and it is incumbent on everyone to fight for it," Lewis told the Telegraph. "Let us sort the competition format and let us sort the monies. We believe in meritocracy and we believe in a fair distribution of monies."
A number of Wales' top players are out of contract at the end of the season and are attracting interest from clubs across the Channel who can offer greater financial incentives. Lewis concedes it will be harder for the likes of the Blues to keep players such as Leigh Halfpenny, who is attracting interest from Toulon, and Sam Warburton if there is no European rugby on offer.
"We need players of the calibre of Sam and Leigh to be playing in Wales," Lewis added. "I will do absolutely everything I can to ensure that they stay here. Keeping them here would be more difficult without a Heineken Cup."
And Warburton's agent Derwyn Jones reiterated this point and said although the Welsh skipper is keen to stay in his home country, the future of the Heineken Cup will sway the flanker's decision.
"Sam Warburton has told Cardiff Blues that he wants to stay in Wales next season," Jones told Y Clwb Rygbi. "But the region aren't able to offer him a contract at the moment because of the mess that exists in Europe. They don't know how much money they will have next year."
"There is only so much time that guys like Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny and Adam Jones can wait until there is a contract offer, so the WRU and the regions must get together and do whatever they can for the good of Welsh rugby.
"[There must not be] the kind of power struggle that has gone on in the past [between the WRU and the regions] and they must do it now. If they don't do it now then these players will be going."
Warburton's Cardiff Blues boss Phil Davies also concedes the uncertain future facing the Heineken Cup is a hindrance when it comes to contract discussions. Davies said: "We have a few players out of contract at the end of the season and we plan for the best case scenario, that's all we can do.
"What the reality is after that, who knows? The administrators are quality guys and hopefully it will be put to bed as soon as possible. Our chief executive is working hard with their parties and we will see how that goes along."
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