Welsh Rugby Union joins fight to keep top stars amid confusion over Heineken Cup breakaway
THE Welsh Rugby Union has made an offer to centrally contract top players until the future of European competitions is thrashed out.
A number of Wales stars - like national team captain Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Alun-Wyn Jones and Adam Jones - are all out of contract with their regional teams at the end of this season.
Continued uncertainty about top-flight European competition next term has left Wales' regions concerned over their potential lack of financial clout to offer new deals.
The WRU, though, says it is prepared to step in with central contracts, and then reassign those deals to the regions - Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Newport Gwent Dragons - once a European solution is found.
Meetings, meanwhile, will continue in Dublin today aimed at salvaging next season's Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions.
Top English and French clubs are currently serving notice to quit European Rugby Cup-run tournaments, and are formulating plans for a new Rugby Champions Cup next term which the Welsh regions publicly backed earlier this week.
To assist the regions on a short-term basis, the WRU says it is prepared to draw down on £33million it has committed to the regions over the next five years.
In a statement, the WRU said: "Due to the length of the ongoing European negotiations, the Welsh regions have expressed concerns about their ability to conclude their own negotiations with leading players who are approaching the end of their existing contracts.
"To help and support the four Welsh regions, the WRU has offered to immediately assist to enable the regions to retain their leading Welsh-qualified players in Wales.
"The WRU has offered to contract all of the regions' leading Welsh-qualified players who are out of contract at the end of this season on appropriate terms to be agreed.
"Once the negotiations regarding the European tournament are successfully concluded, the WRU would permit the regions to revert to the current position with the agreed contracts being reassigned back to them."
And WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis added: "I want to make it clear to our players that we have full confidence in the future of the elite game in Wales.
"It is important that any player considering his future right now fully understands the level of support the WRU is prepared to offer.
"It would be inappropriate to go into details about any negotiations or discussions which rightly have to be concluded in private, but I respect the concerns of the players at a time when our talks on Europe are continuing.
"Our squad is about to embark on a demanding autumn series of international games, and it is vitally important that all of their minds are completely focused on the task in hand.
"I shared this proposal with the regional chairmen on Monday of this week, and look forward to what I expect would be a positive response."