Hooker Huw Bennett set for Ospreys exit, says Warren Gatland

Huw Bennett

Wales hooker Huw Bennett could leave the Ospreys, according to national coach Warren Gatland.

Bennett's deal expires at the end of the season and Gatland said the player could join ex-Ospreys James Hook, Lee Byrne and Mike Phillips in France.

Gatland said: "Huw Bennett hasn't been offered anything, or a lot smaller contract at the Ospreys, and could be going offshore."

The Wales coach also believes Gethin Jenkins could leave Cardiff Blues.

Bennett's potential departure ties in with growing fears of more established Wales players leading the domestic game behind.

Wales' four regions - the Ospreys, Blues, Newport Gwent Dragons and Scarlets - are operating a £3.5m salary cap from next season.

Since their announcement Irish wing Tommy Bowe's return to Ulster from the Ospreys has been confirmed, but they have held on to Wales tight-head prop Adam Jones for two more seasons.

Scarlets head coach Nigel Davies as admitted his region is "in a battle" to field a competitive squad next season.

Dragons defence coach Robert Appleyard has added his voice to those saying Welsh teams cannot compete finanancially with their French counterparts.

Likewise Blues chairman Peter Thomas says a greater player exodus could be on the cards.

Gatland admits seeing an increasing number of his players employed outside Wales could be detrimental to the national team.

He said: "It does hinder your preparation... it's definitely going to be a challenge with players playing in France and potentially England, something we're going to have to cope with.

"But you can understand that the regions are under a huge amount of financial pressure as well."

Bennett admitted last December the new regional salary cap would be a factor when he considered his future options.

News of Bennett's departure will be a further blow to the Ospreys, who have appointed Steve Tandy as head coach to replace Sean Holley with director of coaching Scott Johnson also leaving the region with immediate effect.

Shane Williams recently announced he will retire at the end of the current campaign. despite having a contract until the end of the 2012-13 season.

However Wales prop Adam Jones recently put paid to speculation surrounding his future by signing a new two-year deal.

Bennett has won 51 caps for Wales since making his debut in 2003, having represented his country at Under-19 and Under-21 level.

He has been with the Ospreys since the advent of regional rugby in 2003 and has made more than 140 appearances.

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