CARDIFF — Rhys Webb is the main casualty of the Welsh Rugby Union’s change in policy on overseas-based players with Warren Gatland admitting he feels uncomfortable about the scrum-half’s situation.
Webb will be ineligible to play for the national side next term after agreeing a three-year deal with Top 14 giants Toulon.
The WRU’s new policy means only those based overseas who have 60 or more caps will be considered for Wales duty. Webb, who has 28, is someway short of that tally.
The Wales scrum-half says he is “very disappointed” at the news and not being able to play for Wales is a “real blow”.
Webb said on Monday: “I didn’t know the full implications when I agreed to join Toulon because the change in the selection policy came out after I signed.
“I have given 10 years’ service to the Ospreys and Welsh rugby and have picked up injuries along the way. I would have hoped that would have been taken into consideration.
“I still very much want to play for Wales this season and hope I can gain selection for the autumn international squad.”
Gatland says he is “not comfortable” with the situation regarding Webb but hopes the Wales scrum-half will turn his back on the Toulon contract and opt to stay within the regional system.
“He can still get out of his Toulon contract,” Gatland said of Webb. “He has just signed a letter of agreement. He has not signed a full contact with Toulon.
“Market forces are going to dictate what a player does. I had a good conversation with Rhys — he is 28, has had injuries, he is thinking about himself, his future and his family, and so he may have made that decision whether he was captured or not.”
Gatland continued: “He needs to make his own decision [regarding his future]. You should talk to his agent, Derwyn [Jones].
“We spoke to him before to say it was potentially going to be introduced. He is well aware of it, he has spoken to Rhys, I have spoken to Rhys — not so much about that but his decision to go. He has had a lot of injuries, he is 28, getting to 60 caps might take three years and he might not get that opportunity [to move] again.”
Gatland hopes the new rule will see Gloucester’s Ross Moriarty and Exeter’s Tomas Francis sign their next contract with one of the regions, or they will be left illegible for selection.
The new policy leaves those based within the Welsh regional system with clarity over their own international prospects if they were weighing up a move overseas.
It comes after there were a number of caveats in the previous incarnation, nicknamed ‘Gatland’s Law’.
“My responsibility is what’s best for the game and that is to have competitive regions supplying players to the national team,” Gatland said.
“In the last agreement the previous policy was that the regions only wanted players who were in playing in Wales to play for Wales.
“I understood that because they felt keeping players in Wales made them more competitive. We had that policy in place before, but it was difficult to understand and there were a lot of wildcards and other factors.
“This is a lot more clear cut, black and white and hopefully it’s easier to understand. It’s there in place at the moment, but if it’s not working then we’ll look to review it going forward.”