Six Nations: Wales assistant coach Rob Howley questions timing of RRW statement

Last Updated: 30/01/14 5:49pm

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Rob Howley: Wants Wales internationals to stay with the regions

Rob Howley: Wants Wales internationals to stay with the regions

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Rob Howley says Wales captain Sam Warburton was "surprised" by the comments of Regional Rugby Wales regarding his central contract.

Warburton recently became the first player to agree contractual terms with the Welsh Rugby Union, a three-year deal that will take effect from next season.

But the RRW, who are the umbrella organisation for Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets, reiterated its stance late on Wednesday night of the regions not selecting any centrally-contracted player until agreement is reached with the WRU on several outstanding key issues.

The WRU stated last weekend that it would allow Warburton to continue playing for his current team the Blues next term.

"Obviously, there is surprise at the timing of it (RRW statement on Wednesday)," said Wales assistant coach Howley.

"I think Sam is a little bit surprised, having been engaged in terms of talks over the last six to eight weeks with the Blues.

"Sam is pretty relaxed about it. He is a level-headed guy, rugby is first and foremost.

"The message from the national squad is that we want all our players to stay in Wales, whether that is with the national team on contract or with the regions. Alun-Wyn Jones staying in Wales is fantastic for Welsh rugby.

"It's great for Sam, the Blues and Welsh rugby that we've got our Lions and Wales captain staying here in Wales, as opposed to plying his trade over the (Severn) Bridge or in France."

The WRU say they want as many Wales stars to sign deals with the regions as possible, and claim to have "encouraged" the Scarlets to "conclude negotiations" with Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams, and the Ospreys to follow suit with Adam Jones. Those three players will be out of contract later this year.

A toxic political climate in Wales between WRU and RRW shows no sign of abating as the countdown to Six Nations kick-off continues.

But Howley says there is no danger of players or coaches being distracted as defending champions Wales begin their quest for an unprecedented hat-trick of titles against Italy on Saturday.

"As a player, as a coach, you can't go anywhere in Wales at the moment without being asked what's happening off the field, but it is important we focus our challenges and resources on what happens on the field," he said.

"There will be no excuses for the performance on Saturday. We expect to play well and we expect to get the championship off to a winning start.

"If you don't turn up in terms of your mindset and discipline - that is what international rugby is about - and be clinical, then you can actually lose a game. It is something we are mindful of for the weekend."

Racing Metro flanker Dan Lydiate, meanwhile, has rejoined the Wales squad and trained on Thursday following a flying visit home to Paris earlier this week for the birth of his daughter Lucy.

Lydiate will start alongside Justin Tipuric and Toby Faletau in the back-row this weekend.

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