Wales and Scotland are among a number of nations who will not find out until next month if their World Cup preparations will be severely disrupted by being denied early access to their Premiership-based players.
Warren Gatland names Wales’s World Cup training squad next Tuesday but the Guardian understands it will not be clear whether players such as Liam Williams, Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau are available for their altitude training camp in July, and their first warm-up match against England on 11 August, until World Rugby’s council meeting on 22 May.
As revealed by the Guardian last December, Premiership Rugby (PRL) issued World Rugby with a threat of legal action over an insurance row and had vowed to strictly enforce regulations over the release of non-English players in the top flight as a result.
That would mean Williams, Biggar and Faletau as well as a raft of Scotland internationals in the Premiership cannot join their countries’ World Cup preparations until mid‑August, only 35 days before the tournament begins in Japan. Tonga, Samoa and Fiji would also have their preparations hampered.
The Guardian understands that PRL and World Rugby are close to an agreement and that a proposal is due for consideration at the global governing body’s council meeting next month.
But while there is a degree of confidence from both parties it will be signed off, there is still some way to go before the agreement is finalised.
“We are continuing to have discussions with World Rugby and while we have made progress there are still some outstanding issues,” a PRL spokesperson told the Guardian. “Positive discussions are ongoing, however there are still some details that need confirming. We cannot confirm these finer details at this stage but we look forward to further positive discussions with World Rugby.”
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The initial dispute centred on World Rugby’s regulation 23, which states clubs are compensated by unions for injuries picked up on international duty for players who earn £225,000 or less a year. Anything more than that is paid by the clubs.
World Rugby had agreed to increase the threshold to £350,000 but PRL wanted no limit and requested it be removed on the basis there are 60 non-English internationals in the Premiership earning £225,000 or above and 25 on £350,000 or above. That was rejected last year, as was another request to do away with the 12-month limit, which means clubs are liable for any injury longer than a year.
The impasse – which led to that threat of legal action last December – prompted PRL to take a stance that no non-English Premiership players would be available for selection by their countries until the official pre‑World Cup window opens. According to World Rugby’s regulation 9, PRL must release players when it does open but does not have to before. If World Rugby ratifies the new proposal next month, however, those players are set to become available to their countries much earlier.
Anthony Watson, meanwhile, will make his first appearance for 13 months after being named in the Bath side to face Sale on Friday. Watson has been out of action since last March because of an achilles injury that required two operations but will begin his pursuit of a place in England’s World Cup squad at the AJ Bell Stadium.