Regions deny agreement over Warburton central contract

Question marks remain over the future of Wales captain Sam Warburton with another twist in the regional rugby tale Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

The four Welsh regions have cast major doubt over the future of Wales captain Sam Warburton by stating that there is still no agreement in place to play WRU centrally contracted players - despite the Lions captain putting pen to paper on a Union contract last weekend.

The issue of central contracts has been one of the major points of ongoing negotiations between the WRU and the four regions over the past few months, as they all seek to find a more sustainable way to run the professional game in Wales.

Player retention has been one of the main driving forces behind the need to look for new ways to make the regions financially competitive in the world rugby marketplace, as clubs in England and France - who hold more independent commercial power than Welsh regions - have driven up market value of international stars.

Despite having secured the future of Warburton on a groundbreaking central contract at the weekend, meaning he now becomes an employee not of a regional side but of the Welsh Rugby Union themselves, the four regions have moved to distance themselves from any suggestion that they have agreed a new deal with the union to take the game forward.

In a statement issued on behalf on the regions by umbrella organisation Regional Rugby Wales, they said:

"The introduction of one individual national contract at this particular time, however, leaves the Regions bemused and they would question the strategy behind the bizarre action by the WRU given that a final agreement on the future of Welsh Rugby has yet to be reached.

"For many months, through the proper channels of the PRGB, the Regions have attempted to discuss a number of pragmatic options for different contract models with the WRU, as part of a wider structural solution that focuses on delivering sustainable and competitive professional rugby at all levels over the next ten years.

"These proposals had at their core the objective of retaining our Welsh International players and ensuring they trained and played their weekly rugby in Wales.

"The proposals also confirmed that the Regions would only play a centrally contracted player on collective agreement between all four Regions - as part of a complete structural solution for the future of the game in Wales.

"No overall framework has been agreed between the WRU and Regions, so no agreement to play centrally contracted players in the Regions currently exists."

The WRU are understood to have made several other offers similar to Warburton's over the past few weeks, some which have been unsuccessful, others of which are still being decided upon.

Leigh Halfpenny's recent move to French club Toulon was preceded by an offer from the Union to stay in Wales, as was international second row Alun-Wyn Jones before he decided to sign a new deal with the Ospreys last week.

Other deals are understood to have been tabled to fly half Rhys Priestland, prop Adam Jones and centre Scott Williams, who are all out of contract at the end of the season. All are yet to make a formal decision on their next move, although Priestland is believed to favour staying in Wales over offers from abroad.