Tomas Francis: Wales prop faces uncertain Test future after Exeter extension

An injury suffered in the 2019 World Cup denied Tomas Francis the chance to win more Wales caps in the 2020 Six Nations
A 2019 World Cup injury denied Tomas Francis the chance to win more Wales caps in the 2020 Six Nations

Prop Tomas Francis has signed a contract extension with Exeter to raise question marks about his Wales eligibility after the 2020-21 season.

He is among 30 players who have signed with the English Premiership club, with the 28-year-old's deal continuing from the 2021-22 campaign onwards.

Exeter say they are contract extensions rather than new deals.

Francis has won 48 caps for Wales and his current Exeter contract was set to expire in the summer of 2021.

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) selection policy for Wales' men rules out players with fewer than 60 caps who sign for sides outside the country and that ruling could affect Francis from next summer.

Francis has played at Sandy Park throughout his Wales career after being first capped against Ireland in August 2015.

In April 2019, Francis activated a clause in his contract which allowed him to remain at the club until summer 2021, while still being eligible to carry on his Wales career until that date.

The 60-cap rule did not apply then as it was a clause enacted in a current deal rather than signing a new one.

As Sunday's announcement by Exeter was reported as a contract extension rather than a new deal, there is the possibility that Francis will still not fall foul of the 60-cap rule.

However, in April 2020 Francis said he believed if he decided to stay at Exeter after the summer of 2021 he would have to have won 60 Wales caps to remain eligible for his country.

The prop is unlikely to win 12 caps to reach the required number by July 2021, although it is not impossible.

There could be up to five Wales internationals in the revised 2020 autumn schedule, with five more games in the 2021 Six Nations tournament.

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Wales are in line to visit Argentina next summer at the same time as the British and Irish Lions tour South Africa.

Lions Test caps do not count in the 60-cap rule, which applies only to Wales games.

York-born Francis, who qualified for Wales through his grandmother, could argue there were mitigating circumstances if he is just short of the threshold next summer.

He missed out on the opportunity of playing in Wales' two summer tour matches against New Zealand, as the series was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis would not have been eligible for the postponed match in Japan in June because the game fell outside World Rugby's international window.

The Professional Rugby Board (PRB) runs Welsh rugby's top tiers. Its members granted scrum-half Rhys Webb special dispensation in January 2020 to become eligible for Wales six months early after he announced he was returning to Ospreys from Toulon.

Francis is Wales' first choice tight-head, but missed the four matches in the 2020 Six Nations because of shoulder surgery, following an injury suffered in the World Cup semi-final defeat by South Africa in Japan in October 2019.

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