Welsh rugby introduces salary cap at regions

Wales' four regions have announced a salary cap amid fears of a mass player exodus to France.

Each of the four teams will spend a maximum of £3.5m on Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup squad members.

The cap begins in July 2012 and the Welsh Rugby Union has welcomed it.

"We must try and ensure... we do something between us collectively... that gives us the opportunity to keep our best players," said Regional Rugby Wales chairman Stuart Gallacher.

"We can solve this but we've got to do it together. We have to keep developing our own younger players.

"One of the benefits of this salary cap I believe is it gives us more scope and more finances within the regions to keep developing our own younger players as we saw in the World Cup.

"We have to be realistic that occasionally we are going to lose them. Fifteen years ago, before professionalism, we lost them to rugby league.

"There's always been a smattering of people that decide to go elsewhere for their income and this is no different.

The WRU invests £6m in cash every year to the four regions, in addition to its funding of the four regional academies so is delighted to see the approach to build greater sustainability being taken

Roger Lewis WRU chief executive

"I understand, as do the regions, that it is very, very tempting to improve your financial lot for yourself and your family.

"The regions have come together with a shared sense of responsibility to get their own houses in order and find solutions.

"This agreement is the start of that journey. They are eager to do all they can to achieve greater self-sufficiency and our governing body the WRU has been wholly supportive of and endorsed the initiative we have taken.

"This is a powerful signal of our determination to achieve our aims amidst some tough economic challenges in Wales now and in the future.

"All four regions are working very hard indeed to manage their businesses more effectively in a very difficult environment for everyone.

"As part of that, it is essential that every element of the circa £30m annual costs involved with operating four professional rugby businesses in European competition, is examined in detail and managed effectively."

In a statement  released by the WRU, chief executive Roger Lewis said: "I applaud the regions for the way they have achieved this agreement with one unified voice.

"The WRU invests £6m in cash every year to the four regions, in addition to its funding of the four regional academies so is delighted to see the approach to build greater sustainability being taken."

Wales props Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins are among those linked with moves to France.

Luke Charteris could play there next season while James Hook, Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips are already in France.

Clubs in England's Premiership operate their squads on a total salary budget of £4m per season.

WALES TEST PLAYERS IN EXILE

  • Gareth Delve - Melbourne Rebels
  • Mike Phillips - Bayonne
  • James Hook - Perpignan
  • Lee Byrne - Clermont Auvergne
  • Nicky Robinson - Wasps
  • Craig Mitchell - Exeter
  • Andy Powell - Sale
  • Dwayne Peel - Sale
  • Martin Roberts - Northampton
  • Rhys Gill - Saracens
  • Ben Broster - Wasps
  • Jamie Robinson - Agen
  • Eifion Lewis-Roberts - Toulon

Senior figures at the regions - Cardiff Blues , Newport Gwent Dragons , the Ospreys and Scarlets - have expressed their views over the issue.

And they have made calls for the WRU to provide extra cash in a bid to persuade star players not to move to any French Top 14 and English clubs or further afield.

Dragons lock Charteris is the latest player to announce he is leaving Wales and could line up alongside Hook at Perpignan next season.

Scrum-half Phillips left the Ospreys for Bayonne at the end of last season while Lee Byrne went from the Swansea-based region to Clermont Auvergne.

The stock of other leading Welsh players rose at the World Cup as they reached the semi-finals and then finished fourth following defeat by Australia.

Since then Ospreys prop Jones and fellow British and Irish Lion Jenkins, of the Blues, have been linked with moves to France.

Dragons wing Aled Brew is also reportedly a Perpignan target while the Scarlets fear young stars such as fly-half Rhys Priestland, wing George North and centres Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams could also fall prey to foreign clubs.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has warned players their Test careers could suffer if they move to clubs outside Wales.

Two weeks before the 2012 Six Nations Wales will travel to Poland for a training camp and Gatland has said players unvailable for it may not be considered for the tournament.