Warren Gatland: Wales coach says criticism of him over Rhys Webb selection 'unfair'

Rhys Webb
Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb will leave Ospreys to join Toulon in 2018

Wales coach Warren Gatland says he has been subjected to "unfair" criticism over the new player policy which will rule Rhys Webb out of international selection from next season.

The Ospreys scrum-half is in the 36-man squad for the autumn Tests, but cannot play for Wales once he joins French club Toulon next summer.

"There was a lot of criticism of myself over this," Gatland said.

"I felt that was unfair... the policy we have [now] is better."

Wales' new selection qualification - agreed between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and its four regions - is that any player with fewer than 60 caps who plays club rugby outside Wales will be not considered for selection.

British and Irish Lion Webb's injury-limited career means he has made only 28 appearances for Wales, despite being first choice since 2014-15.

Previously, Gatland was able to pick any four players from outside Wales, though that would have reduced to two from 2018-19.

"I feel for Rhys in that he is not going to be available for the World Cup. We had a good chat about that when we met up last Saturday," Gatland said.

"Rhys knew that going to Toulon he was potentially jeopardising his international career under the old policy.

"There was light at the end of the tunnel because if he played well enough we could still select him as one of the two wild-cards.

"If you look at those who could have missed out... I feel for Rhys.

"But is the policy better than we had before? Absolutely!"

"You looked at what was there before and for the World Cup in 2019 we would only have been able to pick two wildcard players and that would have been two from potentially [Taulupe] Faletau, [Rhys] Webb, [Dan] Biggar, [George] North, Liam Williams and maybe a couple of others as well," added Gatland.

"Those are now all available to us but Rhys Webb unfortunately has been captured by this.

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Scrum V discusses the possibility of changing 'Gatland's Law'

"But you know there's a lot of water under the bridge between now and 12 months and going there [to the 2019 World Cup].

"And you never know what's going to happen with injuries and going to Toulon, and what might happen there and whether he could end up back here."

The previous ruling was commonly called Gatland's Law, but the coach said he was not involved in discussions between the WRU and regions about the new policy except on setting the limit on the number of caps.

Gatland claimed he had worked to reduce the threshold.

"The regions - and we've been talking about this for the last 12 months - had been pushing hard for a 70-cap limit and I personally felt that was too high," he added.

"So I have personally been involved in the discussions about the cap limit trying to get what I thought was a fair number.

"Unfortunately Rhys was the one who was captured by that number. But I must reiterate, I wasn't involved in any discussions with the regions in terms of agreeing this policy between the Union and the regions."

"I got pushed out there from a media perspective on the Monday, and it was almost like it was my policy.

"We haven't heard one word from the regions at the moment about their involvement in that, and I would like to hear from them.

"This policy has been agreed by the two parties (regions and WRU) and I was involved in discussions four years ago when the Rugby Services Agreement came about.

"At the time, the regions were pushing for the rule (that) no player outside of Wales should be selected. I didn't think that was right."

Asked whether there was a clause to cover exceptional circumstances like an injury crisis in one position, Gatland said nothing was agreed.

But he added: "If it was a crisis at scrum-half you'd like to think common sense might prevail and people would allow that situation to evolve.

"At this stage I don't know what would happen. I'd be at the mercy of other people agreeing to that."

Wales squad

Forwards: Rob Evans, Wyn Jones, Nicky Smith, Leon Brown, Tomas Francis, Samson Lee, Kristian Dacey, Elliot Dee, Ken Owens, Jake Ball, Adam Beard, Seb Davies, Cory Hill, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Cross, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Lydiate, Josh Navidi, Aaron Shingler, Justin Tipuric;

Backs: Aled Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar, Rhys Patchell, Rhys Priestland, Owen Williams, Jonathan Davies, Tyler Morgan, Hadleigh Parkes, Owen Watkin, Hallam Amos, Alex Cuthbert, Steffan Evans, Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams.

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