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Shane Williams column: It’s right to let regions take control once more

By Shane Williams

THERE is no doubt in my mind the National Dual Contract system has been a huge success since its introduction in 2014. For that, the Welsh Rugby Union should be applauded.

By the same token, I think the governing body also have the right idea in looking to move past NDC’s and into a new era where the four regions take control moving forward.

I was very interested to hear WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips reveal NDC’s might not be a part of Welsh rugby’s new way of working this week and while I must admit I was initially shocked when I read his comments, on a deeper reflection I believe the decision has plenty of merit.

Why is that? Well, before I explain things further I think it’s important to point out why such a system was introduced in the first place.

NDC’s were designed to help try and keep Wales’ best players in regional rugby and came about at a time when we were losing Warren Gatland’s stars to the leagues in England and France at an alarming rate.

To give credit where it’s due, we’ve seen the number of departures vastly reduced and it’s meant guys like Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton – prior to his retirement – have stayed at their respective regions instead of being lured to the riches of the Gallagher Premiership or TOP14.

At the same time, Wales have been able to woo other star men back over the Severn Bridge from foreign climes; think Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and George North.

I think it’s undeniable that has been of huge benefit to the regional game with those names attracted into moving back home by the fact they are increasingly well looked after in terms of medical provision and having their game time managed by the WRU.

I’m sure all those things will continue moving forwards, but in my opinion it will be good for the regions to take more of a lead in the future in terms of looking after their best players.

As I understand it the money being used for NDC’s will be made available to the four regions to help continue to contract their marquee assets in years to come.

(Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It means the Scarlets will still be able to afford to keep Jon and Leigh, the Ospreys can hold on to Alun Wyn and George, and so on.

By putting the regions in charge of their own destiny, it also shows how far the game has come in Wales since the days of the civil war when the WRU and their four sides couldn’t stand each other.

Of course whatever contractual system is used in future – and we don’t know what that will be yet – I’m sure the WRU will remain involved to some degree.

As has been the case for some time, everyone will be on the same page on this and I think it will only help put Wales in a good place for the World Cup next year.

On the whole, I think it’s a good thing the regions are going to take the lead on contracting their best players with Union help, but I think there is one issue worth raising.

I hope each of the four regions continue to use these designated funds to prioritise the signing of Wales’ best players.

Say NDC’s don’t exist in 18 months’ time and there is an option for one of Wales’ four regions to bring Liam Williams back from Saracens as a hypothetical example.

I’m sure all four Welsh sides would be interested in a player of Liam’s quality, but if they are in charge of their own finances, they might choose to spend that money on two or three other players who will be with them all year round rather than someone like Liam who won’t be around for the Autumn and Six Nations blocks. For them, of course, it’s all about value for money.

You’d like to think that wouldn’t happen because we want our young Welsh fans to see their best players on show at the regions and I also think the WRU would step in at such a point.

It’s a minor issue I could see cropping up in the future, but on the whole Welsh rugby is now in a good place. However things end up moving forward, I’m confident the days of our best players leaving en masse to foreign destinations is a thing of the past.

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