Imagine a world where the fly-half of an international rugby team, who has led said team on the majority of their best ever winning streak, the first victory over Australia in 10 years and to the Grand Slam, is not considered a ‘top band’ rugby player in the country.
Well that is currently the situation that Gareth Anscombe is facing as the Welsh Rugby Union have placed him in the second highest of their new wage banding system, introduced as part of Project Reset, capping his earnings at £350,000.
At the same time he has been juggling offers from Bath, Harlequins, and most recently Bristol, that are reportedly in the region of £500,000 a year. A big difference it is fair to say.
Now, this blog could be about why the entire wage banding system is quite frankly not fit for purpose in a professional sporting environment, and there will be elements of that, but while it is in place for now that can wait for another time.
The pressing issue is where Gareth Anscombe fits into it, as he takes his case to be placed in the top wage banding to the Professional Rugby Board in a bid to earn money which he feels he is deserved.
Since arriving in 2014 the now 27-year-old has become a key member of the Cardiff Blues playing squad with 74 appearances across nearly five seasons, having overcome a potentially serious groin injury in that time as well.
He has recently jumped Leigh Halfpenny in the post-2003 points scorer list, going fourth with 584 and is within stroking distance of Rhys Patchell, and is now joint-second on the place kicks scored list alongside Nicky Robinson.
Anscombe is a member of the squad leadership group and has captained the Cardiff Blues on occasion, often displaying his leadership on the field at key moments of the game.
This of course leads me back to that night in Bilbao, when he took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half and dragged us towards a comeback. The winning kick is worth a top banding on it’s own if you ask me.
Anyway, I digress. One of the arguments that some have made for Anscombe staying in Wales on the lower banding is that it repays the investment in him from the Welsh Rugby Union after he came over from New Zealand.
However, I’d say his presence at Cardiff Blues has gone a long way towards that, and not only in what he has done on the pitch as a player and a leader as has been mentioned above already.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the development of Jarrod Evans has been assisted by having Anscombe to learn from since his arrival, while the likes of Ben Jones and Ben Thomas still coming through the system are no doubt benefitting from his experience.
Add to that the fact that he is now a bona fide member of the Wales squad, and he brings commercial opportunities and puts bums on seats by his name alone, which in a roundabout way leads me to the Team Wales reasons for being awarded the top banding.
It was an admittedly slow start to his international career, but since the start of this season Anscombe has shown all the qualities that we have been raving about at the Arms Park in the red jersey.
In the 13-game winning streak he has started nine at fly-half, coming off the bench to play at 10 a further three times, and in fact he has never lost a game when starting at fly-half for Wales, scoring 73 points along the way.
He has stood up defensively as big shifts without the ball have led to key victories, and been important as the attack has taken their chances when presented against the likes of South Africa and Ireland in the Grand Slam winning game.
I would say it is in his game management that he has taken the biggest steps forward at international level though, particularly when thinking of the Australia and England wins, as his varied kicking game kept Wales in both games against dangerous opposition.
Going into the World Cup he is now clear favourite to wear the coveted red number 10 jersey in the big games, and alongside Dan Biggar gives Warren Gatland the option of two very high quality fly-halfs to take to Japan.
For Cardiff Blues losing him would leave Jarrod Evans as the only out-and-out 10 in the squad, with options to recruit cover diminishing by the week, and it is clear that Anscombe himself obviously wants to stay in Wales, and hopefully at the Arms Park.
He would not be going through the PRB appeals process if he had his mind set on taking the English money, but at the same time he knows he is worth more than a second wage banding, and is spot on when he acknowledges that careers can be short and players need to maximise their earning potential.
The decision is a tough one, but for me as much as possible should be done to ensure Gareth Anscombe leads Wales into and beyond the World Cup, and continues to play his regional rugby for the Cardiff Blues. Pay the Magic Man his money!