The human cost

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There are times when I take some time to carefully construct a blog, do a bit of research into certain elements, leave it for a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes.

This will almost certainly just descend into a rant though.

For a long time my overwhelming feeling around the plight of players in Wales has been one of sadness. Men having to go out training and playing day-in, day-out, putting their bodies on the line, without knowing if they have a job come the start of next season. The stresses attached to that for them personally was tough to hear about.

Now though that has very quickly turned to anger as contracts have begun being offered to players. The derisory nature of them, thanks to the incompetent and shambolic governance of the Welsh Rugby Union, are having a very real human cost beyond the players and impacting all their families and friends.

Dmitri Arhip and Uilisi Halaholo have been incredible contributors to Welsh rugby.

Moldovan prop Arhip came over to the country from Eastern Europe over a decade ago, and through 91 appearances for the Ospreys and now 71 appearances for Cardiff he’s been the cornerstone on which Welsh internationals have built their careers, going on to success for their clubs and the national team.

Away from his wider family and friends, he has raised his children and made a life here, buying into the projects both in Swansea and the capital, becoming a leader in the squad and a fan favourite at both clubs, and putting in quality performances in a position that Wales does not produce a huge amount of top level players.

Halaholo, meanwhile, travelled across the globe from New Zealand seven years ago and immediately became a key player and huge favourite on the terraces of the Arms Park. An important member of the 2018 Challenge Cup winning side he has been a leader and helped develop the next generation of Welsh centres.

Many narrow minded individuals will claim that overseas signings “block young Welsh talent”, yet just like Leigh Halfpenny following Ben Blair, Bradley Davies following Paul Tito, and Sam Warburton following Xavier Rush and Ma’ama Molitika was somehow “a coincidence”, Max Llewellyn and Mason Grady following Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo must just be a stroke of luck.

Of course the hot stepper has even gone one step further and taken to his new home with such heart and enthusiasm that he has proudly represented the national team with distinction, raising his Princess Squad in the capital and having Welsh-born children.

Both of these players have now suffered serious Achilles injuries, with surgery, recovery and rehab possibly keeping out for up to 12 months, yet for these men and their families who have given and given up so much for Welsh rugby the very best we can offer them is around £30,000 a year?

There’s now a very real possibility that neither of them will have a contract beyond the summer, and while I’m sure Cardiff will continue to assist with their recovery and rehab, the financial support they will receive may well not be enough to support their families, and due to their injuries a contract elsewhere is probably unlikely to materialise.

It’s a disgusting state of affairs, one that Roger Lewis, Martyn Phillips and Steve Phillips as the three most recent Welsh Rugby Union CEOs have led us to and that has been compounded by Nigel Walker’s failure to rip up the unacceptable Professional Rugby Agreement that the pro clubs have been forced to sign after being backed into a corner where the other option is going to the wall.

Halaholo’s Twitter thread posted on Saturday gave a brutally honest insight into his state of mind currently, it is a truly heartbreaking read.

I just hope that both players know that if they ever need any help and support in whatever shape or form that is required then all they have to do is reach out as there is an army of Cardiff and Welsh rugby supporters who would do whatever they can for them.

Their and their families contribution to the clubs, communities and nations they represent is massively respected and appreciated.

Perhaps outlooks will improve over the next few weeks as EGMs take place, governance changes are pushed through and financial pictures get better, but those blazers past and present who have put good men and their loved ones in this current situation should take a long, hard look at themselves.

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