Alun Wyn Jones signing a new contract to stay in Wales with the Ospreys until 2021 is superb news for all concerned, and comes at a great time.
Just as the pre-World Cup training squad head off for their two-week camp in the Swiss Alps, the news that the captain and talisman is staying will no doubt be a huge boost for players and coaches, as well as the media team who don’t have to deal with questions about his future at every press conference now!
For the Ospreys, knowing that the best player in Wales is going to be available to them as they return to the Heineken Champions Cup is massive, both in terms of their on-field performance and commercially as the big names bring bums on seats.
The thought of Alun Wyn heading elsewhere was almost unpalatable, such is his worth to his region, and the national team, while for the regional game in general to keep the best Welsh players in Wales is huge.
On a personal level for him too it gives him the best chance of extending his career, possibly taking in the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, and maybe even the 2023 World Cup, should he still be performing at a high level.
However, as always with good news in Welsh rugby, delve a little deeper behind the headlines and there is something to investigate or be concerned about. Positives are more often than not borne from lengthy arguments between blazers.
In this circumstance it is the presence of the words “and Welsh Rugby Union” in the announcement of the new contract that is the gateway to the concern, as Alun Wyn Jones’ deal extends the life of National Dual Contracts.
When ‘Project Reset’ was introduced, and with it came the birth of the controversial and confusing wage bandings, we were told that it would be the death knell for NDCs and that all players would be fully contracted by their regions.
This was all part of the improved relationship between the Union and the regions, as the Professional Rugby Board was introduced, the ‘master/slave’ setup was coming to an end, and that ‘independence and inter-dependence’ was the way forward.
The Welsh Rugby Union would put their funding and the money received from television deals into a pot and split it between the four regions through the PRB, with decisions largely made at that board made up of the five parties and two independent figures.
With this new NDC though, it feels as if aspects of the bad old days still linger, with the WRU retaining a percentage of Alun Wyn Jones’ contract, presumably in order to micro-manage his training workload, recovery and, most importantly, his game time.
It appears as if they are essentially saying to the Ospreys “we don’t trust you to properly manage Jones.” A continuation of that ‘master/slave’ relationship.
If they aren’t saying that, then the question is, why couldn’t the Ospreys, through the PRB, have been awarded the additional funding required to re-contract Jones?
He is clearly an important player to them, it keeps him in Wales, there is no doubt that they will be keen to manage him as much as the WRU are, it sends a message that the Union are in this together with the regions.
Crucially though, it rewards the Ospreys for being the only Welsh team qualifying for the Heineken Cup, rather than retrospectively rewarding success a year or two on, and ending up with the situation where the Scarlets are the best funded region and playing in the Challenge Cup.
If you are reading this and wheeling out the intellectually challenged ‘he’s just a salty Cardiff Blues supporter’ line then you couldn’t be more wrong. I am pleased to see Alun Wyn Jones staying with the Ospreys and in Wales.
However, the manner in which he has stayed seems to underline the fact that the WRU still have not brought into their own mantra of seeing five entities working together, and that is a worry for us all.