Richard Hibbard has hit the nail on the head in his call for Wales’ 60-cap rule to be more flexible.
The Lions and Wales star urged the Welsh Rugby Union to look at cases on an individual basis, rather than have a blanket regulation which prohibits exiles from playing for Wayne Pivac’s side.
Hibbard spoke out on the thorny topic in the wake of highly-rated flanker Thomas Young becoming ineligible for Wales after extending his stay with Wasps, and Hadleigh Parkes and Aled Davies putting any international ambitions on hold by entering exile.
Parkes turned down an offer from the WRU to be part of Pivac’s 38-strong elite squad to sign for Japanese club Panasonic Wild Knights, so can’t be considered for Test rugby as he falls way short of the WRU’s 60-cap mark.
Parkes’ departure, and the potential impact it could have, shouldn’t be underestimated because he was the glue which held the Welsh midfield together during his 29 appearances.
It leaves Wales in a potentially precarious position at centre with Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin and Scott Williams having had their share of injury problems.
There is an answer in the shape of a class act plying his trade in England. Ashley Beck plays for Worcester and could certainly do a job in an emergency. Indeed, he would almost certainly had more caps were it not for a glut of injuries, but is ruled out for Wales because he isn’t with one of the four regions.
It could be a similar situation with Dan Baker, if the big No.8, who was compared to Scott Quinnell, signs for French club Stade Montois.
At his best a rampaging Baker, who’s battling back from an horrific knee injury, could be required in an emergency, although he would hope to be pushing for a place in coach Pivac’s squad as of right if eligible.
Wales have talent at the back of the scrum, but Taulupe Faletau, Ross Moriarty and Josh Navidi have each spent lengthy periods on the sidelines.
Baker too will soon be deemed out of bounds by Pivac because like Young, Beck and, for that matter, Bath playmaker Rhys Priestland, he is disqualified from playing for Wales for having less than those required 60 caps.
It’s understandable the WRU have tried to do something to keep the best talent in Wales.
But there is hypocrisy in the ruling.
Saracens centre Nick Tompkins and lock Will Rowlands, a team-mate of Young at Wasps, were able to make their international debuts during the Six Nations even though they are based in England.
Why? Simply because they were uncapped, which for some reason makes them exempt from the WRU’s policy.
The same applied to Sale Sharks prop WillGriff John and Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit, who Pivac chose in his squad.
Rhys Carre also appeared in the tournament because he was uncapped when he signed for Saracens last season, while Josh Adams was in the same boat when he was picked from Worcester Warriors and Jonah Holmes from Leicester Tigers.
Toulon’s seasoned international Rhys Webb, who was on loan with Bath, was able to return because he has signed for the Ospreys for next season.
I haven’t got an issue with any of them but the treatment of Young, Beck and company really rankles because, in my opinion, the WRU isn’t playing fair.
The policy drawn up by the WRU hierarchy smacks of hypocrisy and double standards, one rule for one and another for another.
My understanding is none of the players in the wilderness received a firm and competitive offer to remain at home, or sign for a Welsh region if their original contract had expired in England.
So why should they be disqualified from being picked for Wales in those circumstances?
What happens if there is a glut of injuries and Wales need one of the exiles? It almost happened with Priestland during the Six Nations, when there was a major doubt about Dan Biggar.
Pivac’s predecessor Warren Gatland always maintained that while there wasn’t an exceptional circumstance clause, he hoped common sense would prevail in such a situation.
But, as it stands and we hope it doesn’t happen, who does Pivac pick at No.9 if the likes of Webb, Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams are ruled out of an international? Or a couple are injured and the other terribly off form.
It could even be that Aled Davies, who started against Uruguay at the Rugby World Cup just last autumn, plays the best rugby of any of Wales’ scrum-halves when he links up with Champions Cup holders Saracens.
Whatever level they are at, playing and training every day with such stellar talent may well improve Davies as a player.
It wouldn’t be the first time someone has improved by leaving Wales. Stephen Jones, who is Pivac’s backs chief, produced the best rugby of his career after joining French club Clermont Auvergne.
Dan Biggar says he has improved after joining Northampton.
So at least leave the door open and give Pivac the option to pick Davies, Young, Beck, Baker et al should an emergency arise?
You have to enforce rules, but this one is too inconsistent anyway. It’s wrong that some exiles can play for Wales simply because they haven’t yet been capped, while others can’t simply because they have been capped.
It’s time the WRU cleared up the mess. As Hibbard says, “They should look at things on an individual basis and consider exceptions to the rules.”