Wales and Ospreys’ Scrum-half Rhys Webb’s decision to quit Welsh rugby at the end of the season should signal the end of Gatland’s Law.
The 28 year-old today confirmed that he would be leaving his home region next summer, reportedly, although it is yet to be confirmed, for Top 14 side Toulon.
With the likelihood that he had been offered a new National Dual contract by the WRU and the Ospreys, although neither party have confirmed it, it is likely that the 30 cap scrum-half will be captured by Gatland’s Law from next season onwards.
Bridgend-born Webb, who appeared off the bench for the Lions in two tests during the summer, will join the likes of Wales first-teamers such as Liam Williams, Taulupe Faletau and George North in plying their trade outside Wales. Stalwart Jamie Roberts, nowadays more of a squad player with Wales, as well as Bath’s in-form Rhys Priestland who has been in the international wilderness since 2016, are also based outside the principality.
With Ospreys teammate Dan Biggar also moving on at the end of the season to join Northampton, come the start of the 2018-19 season, five of Wales’ key men will be playing their rugby outside Wales.
This is a clear sign that Gatland’s Law, which was established in 2014 with the aim of keeping Wales’ best players in Wales, has failed and must be thrown in the bin.
As Wales continues to hemorrhage some of its biggest stars, Gatland and the WRU must now allow its players to choose where they play their rugby.
Under the Law, Gatland is allowed to choose four ‘wildcards’ i.e. four non-Wales based players for this season and next season, but for the 2019-20 season he will only be allowed two ‘wildcards’.
Come next season, Gatland is going to have to leave out one of the likes of Faletau, Williams, Biggar, North and Webb. And if powerful Gloucester back-rower Ross Moriarty, who is out of contract at the end of the season and who the WRU are apparently interested in bringing back to Wales ,with the Scarlets according to rumours keen on signing him, were to turn down any offer of a National dual contract, then it would mean another star would be captured by the Law.
But as mentioned above, come the 2019-20 season when Japan will host the next World Cup, the former Ireland and Wasps coach will have his hands tied even more having only two of the above stars to pick from.
To further complicate things, if any other big names in the national set-up decided to leave Wales before the next World Cup, the situation would get even more difficult for Wales’ most successful coach.
Advocates of the law would argue that it has enjoyed some success: Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones has been kept in Wales through signing one, Lions skipper Sam Warburton and Scarlets and Wales centre Scott Williams as well as Wales and Scarlets tight-head Samson Lee have also remained in the principality through the law.
Experienced back-rower Dan Lydiate was brought back from France on one as well, and exciting Dragons winger Hallam Amos and talented teammate Tyler Morgan were also kept at home through NDC’s.
Biggar and Webb themselves resisted outside offers to sign one and stay at their home region. So the law did undoubtedly work for a time. But the loss of the likes of key Wales starters- Williams, Faletau, Biggar and now Webb, mean that something has to change.
Wales simply don’t have the strength in depth to pick only home-based players like New Zealand and England. No-one can begrudge Webb or any of the other stars above from wanting to secure their financial future. Careers are short and a career-ending injury can happen at any time.
Wales’ top stars must be allowed to play wherever they want.
Gatland’s Law has failed and must be relegated to history.
Hefin Jones, Pundit Arena