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Premiership clubs agree early release of players for Rugby World Cup

The Guardian logo The Guardian 23/05/2019 Gerard Meagher
a group of baseball players playing a football game: Dan Biggar is one of the players who will now be allowed to join up with Wales for World Cup friendlies. © Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock Dan Biggar is one of the players who will now be allowed to join up with Wales for World Cup friendlies.

Wales and Scotland are among a number of countries who have received a major boost to their World Cup preparations with Premiership Rugby agreeing to the early release of their players following landmark changes to World Rugby legislation.

Following the threat of legal action from PRL, as revealed by the Guardian in December, World Rugby signed off on changes to its player insurance regulations at its council meeting in Dublin on Wednesday. In turn PRL will agree to release players such as Wales’ Dan Biggar and Taulupe Faletau as well as Scotland’s Sean Maitland and Sam Skinner for pre-World Cup camps.

Initially PRL had threatened to refuse to release non-English Premiership players until the official pre-World Cup window opened, 35 days before the start of the tournament; Tonga, USA, Samoa and Fiji are among other countries affected.

Related: Danny Cipriani targets World Cup place after player of the season award

Wales, for example, would have been denied access to Biggar, Faletau and Liam Williams for their opening World Cup warm-up match against England on 11 August.

The initial dispute centred on World Rugby’s regulation 23, which previously stated 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 was paid by the clubs.

World Rugby had initially 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. World Rugby has now agreed to raise that threshold to £500,000 as of 1 July, meaning PRL has softened its stance.

“We’ve pushed really hard and it was important to get some structure,” the PRL’s director of rugby, Phil Winstanley, told the Guardian. “We wanted no limit at all but we have been pragmatic and we are happy with the outcome. The message to the unions is we are aware teams will want access to their players but there is a five-week rest period that has to be respected. It’s really important the medical teams are reviewing the status of the player.”

The changes to World Rugby regulations also includes a check in/check out process for players when transitioning between their club and international teams. World Rugby will also continue to provide an insurance cover for tier two unions.

“The welfare of players is our primary responsibility and we continually review the game’s regulations and laws to ensure that they are in step with a modern, evolving rugby environment and support the players, who are the beating heart of our sport,” said World Rugby’s chairman, Bill Beaumont. “This announcement is more than a regulatory change, it is a statement of commitment to players, unions and clubs. Everyone now has certainty ahead of the Rugby World Cup of an appropriate and proportional level of guaranteed cover.”

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