Matthew Rees: Act now to stop others leaving Wales
MATTHEW Rees has spelled out the urgent challenge for the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions — to act now and prevent more players joining Jamie Roberts on the golden trail to France.
As the Blues confirmed that Lions and Wales centre Roberts would leave the Arms Park at the end of the season, with Racing Metro favourites to secure his signature, Rees declined to rule out the possibility that he could be lured to the Top 14 as well.
The 31-year-old Scarlet is out of contract next summer and he could be a prime target for a French side.
But he stressed it was up to Welsh rugby to react to the situation.
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“It’s up to the regions and the union to sort it out,” he said.
“But I’m not sure the English, Welsh and Irish sides will be able to compete financially with the French teams. So it comes down to a question for the individual. Jamie has made his decision to go to France.
“Welsh players are now getting respect abroad which we probably didn’t have in the past.
“French clubs are interested in coming in and poaching players.”
Asked directly if a move to France would appeal to him, the 58-cap hooker, a Lions Test starter in 2009, said: “You can never say never.
“You just don’t know what’s around the corner.
“But I’m just concentrating on the remainder of this season and we’ll take it from there.”
Wales were yesterday trying to limit the damage caused by Roberts’s decision to uproot and join the exodus of leading players away from the regions.
Skills coach Neil Jenkins said: “Jamie’s made a decision that he won’t be with the Blues for the coming seasons, but I think the most important thing from our point of view is that wherever he does go, he gets full release for training camps and matches.
“Then he can come to our autumn camps and the same in the Six Nations.
“If that’s the case, Jamie will continue to be a full part of this Wales squad.”
But money talks, and with Racing Metro believed to be offering Roberts more than 500,000 euros before tax, it is clear players are being tempted like never before.
Benefactors are clearly under pressure and so are the regions that they have kept afloat over the years.
The French are not going to go away any day soon, and Blues chairman Peter Thomas insisted it was not an option for the WRU to sit on their hands as more leading players left Wales.
“It is impossible for the Welsh regions to compete with the kind of money that is on offer from other clubs in other countries,” said Thomas. “The time has come that the Welsh benefactors should not be responsible for funding the professional game.
“The chairmen of the regions can guide companies but if we want to keep Jamie Roberts and other international players in Wales then the governing body has to intervene.
“The player drain out of Wales, which has a negative impact on the Welsh regions and the national team, will only continue without increased funding from the governing body.”
Roberts lines up in the centre for Wales against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow.