THE clock is ticking on frantic efforts to keep British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton in Wales.
Warburton is understood to be keen to remain at Cardiff Blues, but unless a suitable financial package can be arranged before tomorrow, it is likely the Wales skipper will seek a move from his homeland – with France looking the most likely destination, where Clermont Auvergne and Toulon are believed to be heading the queue to sign him. Cardiff have presented an agreeable package in principle to Warburton and his representatives, but the offer needs a cash commitment from the Welsh Rugby Union to be viable. With the regions and WRU currently at odds with one another over the future of rugby in the country and how it should be financed, unless a late pledge is forthcoming from the union Warburton may be left with little option but to leave.
The 25-year-old flanker has been with the Blues since 2009, and is anxious to get his future sorted. His club-mate and fellow Wales international and Lion Leigh Halfpenny already looks certain to depart Arms Park for France, and the loss of Warburton would be a crushing blow to the capital club.
Last month, Lions and Wales stars Jonathan Davies and Ian Evans also announced that they would be eaving the Scarlets and Ospreys respectively to play in France next year. Warburton’s agent Derwyn Jones told walesonline: “Sam’s preference is to stay in Wales. He wants to play for the club he has been with since he was a boy.
“He has become Wales and Lions captain as a Cardiff player. He lives in Cardiff. He wants to play his rugby for Cardiff and Wales. If they can’t put a package together, he is out of work in six months’ time. He has got to think of himself and his family. He has other opportunities and time is running out.
“Cardiff have come to the table with a proposal that would enable Sam to stay in Wales. But that requires further financial support from the WRU. Hopefully personal disagreements can be set aside to keep the Wales and Lions captain in Wales.”
Jones informed the Blues and the WRU last week to inform them of the Wednesday deadline, and he added: “The Blues responded immediately. However I am yet to hear anything back from the WRU.
“I am hopeful of a response from Roger Lewis, given that Sam is Wales captain and the WRU have stressed the importance of players making sure they are available for the fourth autumn international.”
The WRU has previously pledged £1 million to ensure that their star players stay in Wales, but has yet to release any of the funds as a number of key men from last season’s Six Nations Championship-winning squad deliberate over whether their future lies with the four regions or elswehere.
Meanwhile, Halfpenny was last night named the BBC Cymru Wales Sports Personality of the Year 2013. Wales’ Six Nations winners were named team of the year and Warren Gatland was coach of the year. Wales and Tottenham footballing legend Cliff Jones received the Lifetime Achievement Award.