The threat to Rhys Webb’s international future is self-defeating and was entirely avoidable, says Robin Davey. If the new national selection policy was well-intended, it has been poorly targeted at a player who deserved better.
Why has Welsh rugby shot itself in the foot again when there was absolutely no need?
Why have the powers that be decided to score an own goal, to mix my sports, by making an example of Rhys Webb?
The dynamic Ospreys scrum-half has fallen foul of the new WRU ruling which states that from next season exiled players will only be able to play for Wales if they have won 60 or more caps.
As Webb is currently on 28 in a career hit by a series of injuries, he will have no chance of reaching that landmark and so, having signed for French aces Toulon last week, he will have to call time on his international career.
He is understandably in some state of shock, particularly as he and his agent, Derwyn Jones, both claim he knew nothing of the new rule that was about to be introduced when he signed a three-year contract with Toulon.
Wales coach Warren Gatland, on the other hand, says there was a conversation with Webb plus his agent before the deal was done. So it’s a case of who to believe in this increasingly murky affair.
“I’m very disappointed because I love playing for Wales, it means a huge amount to me. It’s a real blow I won’t be able to play international rugby next season,” said Webb.
“I didn’t know the rule was in place when I agreed to join Toulon because the change in selection policy came after I signed. I’ve given 10 years’ service to the Ospreys and Welsh rugby and have picked up injuries along the way. I’d have hoped that would have been taken into consideration.”
Gatland claimed Webb could still get out of the contract as he had only signed a letter of agreement, an interpretation strongly denied by Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal, who insists the Wales coach would have to pay up if he wanted Webb released.
All this puts another storm into Welsh rugby when it appeared to be heading for calmer waters under the new regime with far better relations between the Union and regions.
Yet it is all so unnecessary, for surely the Union could have said that players who had accepted new deals could be exempt from the rule until their contracts are up?
That is the case with players already plying their trade elsewhere – Ross Moriarty, for example – who will be expected to play for one of the regions when their current contracts finish if they want to play for Wales.
It could be that the Union, so berated by flaws in the so-called Gatland’s law, wanted to make an example of an individual, to show that this time they mean business and their latest international player ruling really does have some teeth.
But why make an example of one of their best players when there really is no need? It puts the player in an unenviable position when all that had to be done was to say in future anyone with less than 60 caps signing for a club outside Wales would no longer be eligible to play for his country.
As it is, yet more controversy is dogging the sport, and in a week mired in controversy when Gatland said he hated coaching the Lions because of media negativity. He claimed he and his coaching team were deeply hurt by Sean O’Brien’s comment that the Lions would have won the series 3-0 against the All Blacks with better coaching. As if…!
Gatland has also been active in another way, stirring up more controversy, but this time among the regions themselves, or certainly their fans.
For he has said the vibes are now so good coming out of the Dragons that they should soon attract better players, including one or two overseas internationals.
To which some have appeared on social media saying players are attracted by more money or by the prospect of winning trophies, not by vibes.
Gatland has also praised head coach Bernard Jackman for the way he has rotated his players and introduced younger ones to the fold.
Fans in other parts of Wales are already accusing the Union of favouring the Dragons because of their backing, which shows that jealousy and petty rivalry is still alive and kicking in Welsh rugby.
So many are used to kicking the Dragons after years of failure that their sudden emergence as the most talked-about region, apart from the Scarlets, isn’t going down too well.
Many seem to enjoy them being constant cannon fodder, used to lumbering along at the bottom of the pile that their sudden improvement along with major developments off the field, is now attracting lots of headlines which some people find that difficult to take.
Well, every dog has its day. It may be time the Dragons tasted more than just a few crumbs!