WRU Chief Defends Wales 25-Cap Rule as Breakout Talent Hawkins Will Miss Rugby World Cup - Ruck

WRU Chief Defends Wales 25-Cap Rule as Breakout Talent Hawkins Will Miss Rugby World Cup

WRU acting CEO Nigel Walker has defended the current eligibility restrictions in place, which disqualifies Welsh players based outside of Wales to play for the country, with less than 25 senior caps.

These restrictions were reduced down from 60 caps, yet the limit still sees talented young prospect Joe Hawkins ruled out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Hawkins was a breakout star for Warren Gatland’s side during the 2023 Six Nations, yet was “significantly underpaid” at the Ospreys, with the 20-year-old limited by an academy contract.

Image Credit: Joe Hawkins on Twitter

This lead Hawkins to sign with Exeter Chiefs, in a move that was both financially sustainable, and benefits his professional rugby development. However, as Hawkins has only accrued five international caps, he became illegible for his country after signing with the Chiefs.

WRU boss Nigel Walker has defended the decision, and explained why the call was made. Walker spoke about the matter at the end of a Welsh Affairs committee debate in Parliament about sports broadcasting. Committee chair Stephen Crabb, a Pembrokeshire MP, argued what the WRU had done with Hawkins ‘a tremendous young man who is a product of the Welsh pathway system can’t be right?’

Image Credit: Joe Hawkins on Twitter

The WRU acting Chief Executive responded: “There’s a balance to be struck. The rule, which used to be 60 caps, is there for a good reason.” Wales Online reported.

“When the regions, the academies, select players to be part of that academy, they could be 13, 14, 15 and they spend six, seven, eight years investing in a player, they want to see some return on that investment.

“We know we can’t compete financially with France, with England in certain circumstances. So it’s put in place to ensure that they get some return on their investment.

Image Credit: Joe Hawkins on Twitter

Walker continued: “At 60 caps people felt the figure was too high, it’s at 25. You can get 25 caps in two and a half seasons.

“So if you made the national team at 21, you could be free to go and earn as much money as you want outside of Wales at 23 or 24. We feel that system is fair.

“The important thing is people understand what the rules are and that they are administered fairly. I’m not going to talk about Joe, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about Joe, but that’s why the 25 cap rule is in place.

“We’ve talked about Welsh regions perhaps not being as competitive as we’d like and there are things we can do. If we let players go through the system and to leave at 19 or 20 without something in place, the professional game in Wales would be devastated.”

Hawkins put out a statement on social media at the start of May, explaining his decision to move to Exeter despite being “truly gutted” about his newfound international ineligibility.

“The turbulent period in Welsh rugby, where there were no contracts on offer in Wales, put out of contract players under pressure. Witnessing the number of players in Wales currently out of a job has reinforced my decision,” said Hawkins of his move.

“Further, while I have spent the last few years playing professional rugby, and international rugby, I have been held to an ‘academy contract’ – being significantly underpaid. Signing for the Chiefs will enable me to grow as an individual, on and off the field.”