Rowlands: We need to put faith in youth
WALES should be unworried about the prospect of leading players heading to France to play their rugby — as long as the individuals in question have guarantees on Test availability built into their contracts.
So says Clive Rowlands, former national captain, coach, team manager and Welsh Rugby Union president.
Welsh rugby is fretting at the top end about the possible departures at the end of the season of the out-of-contract Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate.
But Rowlands believes the game here should have more faith in youth.
"There are some superb players coming through the system in Wales," said Rowlands.
"You only have to look at the evidence of the past couple of years. Justin Tipuric has emerged at the Ospreys, George North at the Scarlets, Alex Cuthbert at the Blues, Toby Faletau (below) at the Dragons.
"I wouldn't be worried about losing a few players to France.
"I don't want to see anyone going.
"But if someone like Jamie Roberts feels he can earn more money and enjoy a different life experience then it is a big call for anyone to stand in his way.
"You just have to take the hit and move on. If you are manager of Marks & Spencer in Oxford Street, Swansea, and you are offered a job as manager of Marks & Spencer in Oxford Street, London, with treble the wages, you are going to be on the Paddington train pretty sharpish.
"That's life. People move around, particularly in sport.
"But I would say to any player contemplating a move: make sure you have a release clause in your contract to allow you to play in every Test and attend training camps."
Wales are searching desperately for an answer to the supposed problem, with the uncertainty over Roberts's future having increased the urgency to put something in place.
The participation agreement between the regions and the Welsh Rugby Union is believed to rule out the governing body assisting one of the professional teams without the agreement of the others.
But, again, Rowlands doesn't believe the Blues should be overly anxious about losing Roberts.
"He is a good player, but how many games does he play for his region? Not many," said Rowlands.
"You can say that about a number of players. If they are not playing much for their regions then you have to question how much they'd be missed if they opted to move away.
"There has always been the threat of players leaving Wales. Years ago, the concern was they would go to rugby league, and if they did you wouldn't see them again.
"Now, at least we can have them back for almost every international.
"People are going on about players being absent for the Australia match in December, but it is only one game. Everyone wants Wales to be at full-strength, but it isn't the end of the world if we are missing a few players for a single match.
"What you can't do is let such a prospect hang over you like a cloud for the next month.
"Let's look at the positives. Wales are going to have ten years' service out of this crop of players.
"That has to be an exciting prospect."
Welsh rugby finds itself in a strange place, with a thriving national team and regional teams who are struggling to make an impression in Europe, all four losing last weekend.
"What you want is for Wales and the regions to be doing well," said Rowlands.
"You also want the grassroots to be watered. I saw Cwmtwrch play Cwmgwrach last weekend and it was an excellent game. I sometimes feel the union should worry less about players going abroad and instead think more about clubs down the leagues.
"But I still think we are in a decent place generally.
"When you have players like Tipuric and Ryan Jones at your disposal in the national team you should be doing well. Those two could be big players for Wales this autumn."