Rugby: Baber calls for WRU backing

Cardiff Blues backs coach Gareth Baber says the Welsh regions need extra financial assistance from the Welsh Rugby Union if they are to hold on to their star players.

Rugby News: Gareth Baber

The likes of James Hook, Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips have all made big-money moves to France, while Blues prop Gethin Jenkins, Ospreys front-rower Adam Jones and Newport Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris are all being linked with French clubs as they come to the end of their current contracts.

Baber is understandably keen for British and Irish Lions forward Jenkins to remain with the Blues, but admits it is almost impossible for Welsh sides to match the spending power of their French counterparts, with Perpignan reportedly ready to offer the Wales prop a deal worth £500,000 a year.

Baber said: "I'd be lying if I said it was easy making sure players stay here, they are young men and they want to set themselves up for life, the money being bandied around is a massive attraction and they would be playing for big, successful European clubs. The way things are economically does not make it any easier.

"We want to keep Gethin, he is from the region, he is a British Lion, he is one of the best props in the world, and is one of the best defensive players I have met. If we can find a way to create a package for him to stay with us it will benefit the Blues moving forward."

Each region currently receives £6million a year as part of the Participation Agreement between them and the WRU, but their budgets are simply dwarfed by French heavyweights such as Toulouse, Racing Metro, Clermont Auvergne, Perpignan and Toulon.

Ospreys director of coaching Scott Johnson had previously called for a top-up system to be introduced which would see international players earn extra money according to their status as Test players, easing some of the burden on the regions when it comes to finding the finances to keep hold of their big names.

And Baber admits he would support such a scheme, which would potentially also benefit Wales coach Warren Gatland, who has spoken on several occasions of his desire for national squad members to ply their trade in the principality.

He said: "When you are trying to build a squad and you have eight players going away on international duty, they tend to be your top earners and you have to replace them within the squad.

"You have to increase the size of your squad and pay other players to play games in the RaboDirect Pro12 while they are away, and that is where the pressure comes from.

"Trying to compete with clubs in France, it is not possible to pay those players and run the rest of squad, it becomes nonsensical, because you might as well not have them (the internationals) and have the money to pay other players, you may lose them but at least you would still have a squad.

"We have to find a way forward to make sure we don't lose our best players. We are so far down the line that central contracts would be difficult to put in place but some form of assistance or top up to keep our best players in Wales would certainly be welcomed."

Despite those concerns, the Blues have made an excellent start to their Heineken Cup campaign.

Last weekend's 25-8 win over Edinburgh moved them top of Pool Two, and a repeat performance on Friday night would put them within touching distance of a quarter-final place.

And Baber revealed he may be able to call upon the services of Gavin Henson.

The Wales centre joined the Blues on an eight-month contract in October but has yet to appear for the region as he recovered from the dislocated wrist that ended his World Cup dream.

The 29-year-old was thought to be likely to make his bow in the RaboDirect Pro12 derbies against the Newport Gwent Dragons and the Ospreys over the festive period, but Baber says he is contention for the trip to Murrayfield.

Baber said: "He has a little niggle in his hamstring but in terms of his hand he is back to where he needs to be and he will be available going forward.

"He will be in contention for the Dragons game and he is in contention for this week and could possibly be in the 23."



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