Although it has not yet been officially announced, Liam Williams’ impending move to Saracens most rank among rugby’s worst kept secrets. The transfer doesn’t come without risk, as Williams will rely on a wildcard selection if he is to be included in the Welsh squad.
This will pit Williams against George North, Jamie Roberts, Taulupe Faletau and possibly even Leigh Halfpenny, Rhys Priestland, Ross Moriarty and Tomas Francis in the coming seasons for one of three wildcard spots in Warren Gatland’s squad.
The Welsh Rugby Union’s Chief Executive Martyn Phillips, previously promised that the WRU’s Senior Player Selection Policy, or Gatland’s law as it has become known, will start to bite. At present only three players plying their trade outside of Wales can be included in the Welsh squad, a number that will be reduced to two ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Although players who were not offered market value deals by the Welsh regions or WRU are exempt from Gatland’s law, it puts a great deal of pressure on those plying their trade abroad to return to Wales.
After being reportedly offered a contract worth £700,000 per year by Toulon, Leigh Halfpenny is one such player who must make a decision over his future. Although the Cardiff Blues and WRU cannot offer the fullback a deal anywhere near that value, the 28 year-old would be putting his international future at risk if he chose to remain at the Stade Mayol.
Nevertheless, after losing Liam Williams, the WRU need clarity and according to The Guardian, Halfpenny must decide whether or not he wants to return to Wales by the end of this month.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast we look at Leicester Tigers’ options and discuss Johnny Sexton’s potential Lions tour.