John Taylor
Wales need to learn to live with the exodus
John Taylor
January 24, 2014
Recent international success has made many Welsh players hot commodities in Europe © PA Photos

Confirmation - at last. Leigh Halfpenny is definitely off to Toulon at the end of the season. Cardiff Blues tried their damnedest but even their very best offer backed up no doubt by the promise of a central contract from the WRU when they get things sorted was not enough.

Warren Gatland has expressed his frustration at being unable to keep his top players in Wales and Roger Lewis, the WRU CEO regurgitated the official line -'There is no doubt that playing in Wales under the gaze of our national coaches is the best place for any Welsh player to be.' - but both know in their heart of hearts they stood no chance of persuading Halfpenny to stay.

Lewis admitted as much when he added, 'but in this day and age we are all aware of the financial pressures on individuals to move.' What he really means is that Wales simply cannot offer enough money to stop him going to France and that is something they are going to have to come to terms with. Today, at least he has had the boost of Alun Wyn Jones re-signing for the Ospreys - that is probably a bigger surprise!

Halfpenny's two year contract is rumoured to be worth about £1.5 million. What we do not know is whether that is net or gross. Jonny Wilkinson was reportedly on 700,000 Euros tax paid on his original contract and took a cut to 500,000 Euros when he extended it for another season. Throw in accommodation and perhaps some local sponsorship tie-ups and you realise the Blues and the WRU were just totally outgunned.

Wales' Leigh Halfpenny crosses the try-line, Fiji v Wales, Rugby World Cup, Waikato Stadium, Taranaki, New Zealand, October 2, 2011
Halfpenny is unlikely to lose his Wales spot for moving abroad © Getty Images

Even the weather is against them. Most people would want to swap wet and windy Wales for the Mediterranean coast at this time of year.

The real challenge for Wales is to find a format that works for a little country that has little to offer except its passion and talent for the game of rugby. There is only one FTSE 100 company based in Wales - the insurance company, Admiral. They do their bit as the national team shirt sponsors but that leaves the Regions scrabbling around for crumbs from local companies that are not in the same league as the banking, manufacturing, insurance and drinks giants.

They cannot even compete with England, Ireland and Scotland - let alone France.

"Veiled threats about players putting their international careers at risk if they are not playing on home soil are totally empty"

Central contracts have been touted as the way forward but the WRU is only talking about involving half a dozen players which simply does not make sense. David Moffett, the ex-CEO of the WRU, ridiculed the scheme on Welsh television last Sunday and is trying to use it as a platform to make a comeback - unlikely but true.

We simply have to come to terms with the fact that the really special talent is going to go elsewhere and make the best of it. Veiled threats about players putting their international careers at risk if they are not playing on home soil are totally empty when you are dealing with the likes of Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Sam Warburton et al.

There would be total outrage in Wales if any of the top players, the corner-stones of the best Welsh team for decades, were to be left-out of the team because of where they were playing their rugby. Football has learned to deal with it and rugby must do the same. The deal that North has with Northampton throws a chink of light on the way forward.

We shall never know the details but the way his club accepted the fine imposed by Premiership Rugby Limited because he played for Wales against Australia outside the window for the autumn internationals suggests it was all agreed before he moved.

The best Gatland can hope for is the same sort of deal for those playing in France. It is absolutely essential that he gets players released for training camps as well as matches and that seems to have worked pretty well so far.

He may bleat about how hard it is playing week in-week out in the Top 14 (or the Aviva Premiership for that matter) and he has made the point that the fitness/medical/nutrition regimes in France are not at the same standard as players can expect at the National Training Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan but those are things his staff can work on.

Wales, like the Pacific Island nations and Argentina, are going to have to learn to make the most of their prodigious talent without necessarily having them all on the green, green grass of home. It is difficult but not impossible - just another side effect of the game becoming professional.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist

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