Stephen Jones says players leaving can boost Wales

Departing Scarlets veteran Stephen Jones believes leaving Wales can benefit players and boost the national team.

Jones, 34, is to join London Wasps at the end of this season having spent two seasons at French club Clermont Auvergne between 2004 and 2006.

Wales' record cap-holder will join a host of Wales stars in exile.

"If they're coming back better players then it will be good for the national team," Jones told Sport Wales.

The 2005 and 2009 British and Irish Lions tourist plays his final game for the Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets when they host Cardiff Blues in the Pro12 League on Saturday.

If the Scarlets register a big win and Glasgow come unstuck against Connacht at Firhill, Jones and his team-mates could yet be involved in the league's play-offs.

But he, Dominic Day (Bath), Ben Morgan (Gloucester), Sean Lamont (Glasgow) and retired props Iestyn Thomas and Rhys Thomas will bid farewell to their home fans against the Blues.

At the same time, star Welsh names at the Blues such at Gethin Jenkins (Toulon), Richie Rees (Edinburgh), John Yapp (Edinburgh) and Rhys Thomas (Wasps) are preparing for futures elsewhere.

The story is similar at the Ospreys, who are losing prop Wales Paul James (Bath) and Test team-mate hooker Huw Bennett (Lyon).

And Newport Gwent Dragons will bid goodbye to lock Luke Charteris (Perpignan), wing Aled Brew (Biarritz) and fly-half Jason Tovey (Cardiff Blues) among others.

Jones accepts he would be "foolish" to deny finances have not played a part in the departures.

But he said: "It's evident that the French clubs have big budgets.

"From my personal experience, I had a wonderful time in France. I spent two years with Clermont - it was good for me as a person and it was good for me from the rugby side of things.

"I had to learn to play a new game-plan, a completely different style of rugby and I felt I came back a better player from the experience.

"I know there's a lot being made of Welsh guys leaving to go to France, but they're still available for the national side and if they're coming back better players then it will be good for the national team."

He also believes Welsh international commitments allow the regions to develop strength in depth.

"When those [Test] players go back to the regions there's suddenly more competition at the regions and competition's good," he said.

"It's healthy and brings out the best in players."

He also believes the young talents that underpinned Wales' 2012 Grand Slam such as Scarlets Jonathan Davies, George North, Scott Williams, Rhys Priestland and Blues Sam Warburton and Bradley Davies can help ensure a bright future for Wales.

Jones said: "French club rugby is on a high at the moment, there's massive budgets for the Top 14 teams and... it is difficult for the Welsh regions to compete on that aspect.

"Yes, it's true there are two Irish teams in the Heineken Cup final [Leinster and Ulster], but look at Welsh rugby.

"We've just won the Grand Slam, the majority of that squad is very, very young. The future looks very good for Welsh rugby.

"Of course we don't want to see players go abroad. Welsh supporters want to watch those players playing week-in, week-out.

"But the good thing is the majority of them are tied up for two or three years and if the regions are, I'm sure, being pro-active they'll look to tie them in for further and longer deals so there won't be a drain of our players abroad."

Watch the interview with Stephen Jones on Sport Wales, Friday, 4 May, BBC Two Wales, 1900-1930 BST.

Top Stories