Oval Talk

Club v country row ruining rugby

Oval Talk

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The club versus country row continues to dog rugby this week with Wales lashing out at Premier Rugby over their "ridiculous" stance ahead of next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland and Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis have both voiced their displeasure after learning England-based players would only be released from the clubs on August 4, two days before Wales' first warm-up against England.

The row particularly involved Wasps number eight Andy Powell and Sale scrum-half Dwayne Peel, who Gatland has hinted could miss out on selection for the World Cup due to them not being available early enough.

Oval Talk can see Gatland's point.

After a five-year deal struck between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four professional regions last year, Welsh players based at home can be made available for their country whenever Gatland wants them.

The same rule basically applies in England where there is an eight-year deal between the clubs and the Rugby Football Union that says players will be released 13 or 14 days before Test matches.

But no such deal exists for Wales players who are based in England.

Premier Rugby, for their part, say that this latest issue is not their fault, instead blaming the International Rugby Board rules that state "the Rugby World Cup assembly period begins 35 days prior to the start of the tournament during which warm-up matches may be played".

So is it fair for Premier Rugby to refuse the release of players, who play such a crucial role for their county?

Oval Talk would be more inclined to see the point were this simply a series of friendly matches organised as an extra to the usual international fixtures.

But this is outside of the domestic rugby season and is the build-up to the World Cup - the biggest rugby tournament in the calendar, something that only happens once every four years and pits the world's best teams against each other.

Wales have refused to deal with Premier Rugby, instead saying they will be happy to talk to the "most important body in England, the RFU, but will not negotiate on the issue and will not be held to ransom".

And as Lewis points out, a vast majority of Wales' players are based at home. What about countries like Scotland, who have 14 of their current 37-man squad based abroad? Or Fiji, where 23 of their 30-man squad are based somewhere other than their home nation? Even Argentina have 26 of their current 38-man squad plying their trade abroad.

Whatever the solution - and Oval Talk is not necessarily pretending it should be a simple one - this issue needs to be sorted out once and for all. Not only that, but the solution should be universal.

With just one year to go before the World Cup, talk should be about the quality of rugby, who is playing well, who isn't. It certainly shouldn't be about who might miss out on a place at the World Cup because of a rule they cannot affect.

The problem is detracting from the sport of rugby - and needs fixing.

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