Sam Warburton and Welsh Rugby Union Agree on Major Contract

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MARCH 09:  Sam Warburton of Wales looks on during the RBS Six Nations match between Scotland and Wales at Murrayfield Stadium on March 9, 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Welsh rugby has been given a massive lift with the news that Sam Warburton has become the first star to sign a central contract with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

The regions have been in disarray for a number of years now, gradually watching as their best and brightest depart for more lucrative pastures in France and England.

Jon Super/Associated Press

However, Warburton has resisted temptation of a move elsewhere, and ESPN report that the WRU will now "loan" the player to Cardiff Blues and be responsible for the flanker's salary.

The news comes at a critical time for the country, with the Six Nations starting in just a week's time and this providing a huge morale boost for the Welsh.

Warren Gatland's side are aiming to become the first team ever to win the tournament three years in a row, although England, France and Ireland all pose very real threats to that record.

Matters are slightly complicated by the fact that the Blues have previously stated, per the ESPN report, that they won't enlist the talents of players who are centrally contracted. However, such is the desperation of things, it's likely they'll have no choice but to budge on that policy for their captain.

The report goes on to quote WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis as saying:

There can be no better message to current and future internationals than the decision of Sam Warburton to become the first senior player to sign a WRU National Contract and commit to Regional rugby and international rugby in Wales.

This is all about us working together in the best interests of rugby in Wales and I am sure this will be remembered as an important moment for rugby in Wales. What we want is for every young rugby fan in Wales to emulate players like Sam Warburton.

The decision to adopt a central contract system follows the examples of Super Rugby giants New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, not to mention the more recently added Ireland, who have adopted the transition well.

Rugby World's Paul Williams is in support of the move, and he suggests that those currently playing in France may have wished the change was made several years ago, prior to their Top 14 switches:

As things stand, Wales have a raft of star players plying their trade outside their native land. Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), George North (Northampton Saints), Luke Charteris (Perpignan) and James Hook (Perpignan) are just some of the players to jump at the money on offer elsewhere.

This week, BBC Sport reported that Leigh Halfpenny would also be joining Toulon at the end of the season, while Jonathan Davies will be added to the Clermont Auvergne roster.

Warburton captained the British and Irish Lions on their successful tour of Australia last summer.
Warburton captained the British and Irish Lions on their successful tour of Australia last summer.David Rogers/Getty Images

For now, the battle being fought among Welsh clubs regarding the long-term future of their high-profile stars rages on.

However, Warburton's newly announced deal promises to set a potential precedent for what's to come in the nation, and brighter days undoubtedly lie ahead once a unanimous understanding is finally reached.