Leigh Halfpenny will be wearing a Scarlets shirt this season, much to the disappointment of his former region, the Cardiff Blues. Robin Davey believes his choice should be respected and that any draft system – for both older and younger players – would be a mistake.
It’s August and it’s holiday time for many, so that means it’s the silly season when it comes to news – and rugby is no different.
Hot topic this week is the draft system and whether it’s a good idea or not. Not a silly subject for sure, but silly thinking it could work in Wales.
The whole argument has been brought up by the decision of Leigh Halfpenny to return to Wales on a dual contract, 60% funded by the Welsh Rugby Union and 40% by the region, in this case the Scarlets.
For that is the destination Halfpenny has chosen on his return to Wales after a lucrative contract negotiation with French giants Toulon ended with him being told he was no longer wanted there.
That, in turn, sparked Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson into claiming that the current system has the risk of feeding the strong.
As evidence for that we have the other examples of leading players coming back to the Principality showing a clear tendency to head west for the more successful regions of the Scarlets and the Ospreys.
Bradley Davies and Dan Lydiate both joined the Ospreys from Wasps and Racing Metro, respectively.
Breaking the figures down for players on NDCs, we find the Ospreys have eight, the Scarlets four, and the Blues and Dragons two apiece.
For the Blues, in particular, to get to the figure of their West Wales rivals they would need their fair share in the future, claimed Wilson, who also questioned what the immediate goal is for regional rugby.
He stressed that at some point there would have to be change or it could end up where the number of national dual contracts in West Wales kept growing, with not many heading east.
There are some who say Wilson has a point and based on figures alone he does, for there is certainly not an equitable spread throughout the four regions.
But the question is, should there be an equal number? And going further, should academy players be based equally among the four regions, too, once they step up to the senior game? In other words, a full drafting system.
Despite hard luck stories coming from some sections in the east the answer must surely be no.
We live in a free market system and a player can’t be told where he must play – there has to be an element of choice or players wouldn’t come back at all but instead remain in either England or France.
If the governing body was paying all of the player’s salary that would be a different matter, but they are not.
They may be paying 60%, but that is for players to return to Wales with the aim of playing international rugby again after deciding to seek pastures new and further their careers elsewhere.
If a player wishes to return to Wales and has a particular preference he can’t be forced to play somewhere else.
Clearly that individual, say in the case of Halfpenny, wants to play at the highest level of domestic rugby, the European Champions Cup, so he will go to the side playing in that competition.
Again, in the case of Halfpenny that is the Scarlets, not Cardiff Blues. Sure it’s tough on the Blues, and what the Dragons would give for a better share of the cream off the top of the milk.
But they have been so dire since the birth of regional rugby they are certain to be overlooked by any top player seeking to return to Wales on a NDC.
That may change under the new administration at Rodney Parade, which is showing every sign of finally getting its act together.
But as long as players have a choice they will want to join the most successful team.
And they should have that choice for no-one in this day and age can force a player to join a team he has no wish to be a part of.