Warren Gatland hands Rhys Webb Rugby World Cup lifeline with suggestion Wales could bend rules
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has handed Rhys Webb a World Cup lifeline by suggesting that he could bend the rules to include the Toulon scrum-half in his tournament squad.
Webb is currently ineligible for international selection after his move to Toulon this summer. Rules agreed between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four regional teams state that players based outside the country need a minimum of 60 caps to be selected by Wales. Webb, the British & Irish Lions scrum half, has only 31 caps after an international career blighted by injury.
Just this weekend, Webb said it would be a “dream” to play for Wales again, and Gatland has granted the 29 year-old fresh hope by indicating that the goalposts could be shifted in the right circumstances, particularly as the World Cup approaches.
“I would love the opportunity to be able to pick him,” Gatland said. “The rules say that I can’t. If there are a couple of injuries I would like to think – if we had lost two of our three 9s that we have at the moment, which are probably the three front-runners – then maybe some common sense (would prevail).
“I think they (the region coaches) understand, if you talk to them they know what the situation is. I don’t think that anyone wants to see a team hampered by not being able to pick the best player. We do have regulations at the moment which have been agreed by the Union and the regions, not so much the coaches – they would be more flexible.
“At the moment it is a firm no, but you can never say never. If we turned up in nine months and it was important to us to take Rhys Webb – would people consider an exception? I would like to think there might be some common sense.”
At the moment, the debate is redundant. Webb is currently out for Toulon with a thigh injury while Gareth Davies, Aled Davies and Tomos Williams will contest the No 9 shirt when Wales take on Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa in the autumn internationals.
Yet there is no doubt that a fit and in-form Webb belongs in the world’s premier band of scrum-halves. Gatland also has a large degree of sympathy for Webb, who agreed his move to Toulon just before the WRU changed the rules regarding overseas-based players.
“I do feel sorry for him as he had agreed terms with Toulon before the policy had taken place,” Gatland said. “That’s tough. Would he have still made the decision? I don’t know – you’d have to ask him that. There is a part of me that still thinks he would have made the decision to go anyway. There is no doubt that when he is fit and playing well he is world class. Could it make a difference to us, having someone available like that? Possibly.”