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Priestland keeping options open

Wales and Scarlets fly-half Rhys Priestland admits that "nothing is set in stone" about where he will play his rugby next season.

Priestland is thought to be among a handful of current Wales internationals offered central contracts by the Welsh Rugby Union.

Wales captain Sam Warburton has signed a three-year WRU deal that will take effect after his current Cardiff Blues contract expires later this year.

Lock Alun-Wyn Jones, though, recently agreed fresh terms with his regional team the Ospreys, turning down a central contract, while Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny opted to sign for reigning European champions Toulon, putting pen to paper on a deal reportedly worth more than £1million.

Priestland will return to the Test match shop window on Saturday when Wales launch their RBS 6 Nations campaign against Millennium Stadium visitors Italy.

After playing second fiddle to Ospreys playmaker Dan Biggar for the autumn international series, Priestland reclaims the Wales number 10 shirt as the reigning Six Nations champions set off in pursuit of an unprecedented title hat-trick.

Priestland is an important part of Wales coach Warren Gatland's plans, yet off-field matters and the ongoing political unrest between WRU and Wales' four professional regions provide an unavoidable back-drop to this season's Six Nations campaign.

"I would just like to see how things pan out," Priestland said.

"I find it difficult because I don't know all the facts, all the details, so it's hard to make a fully-informed decision.

"I have got the Six Nations to concentrate on, so I can take my mind off the situation. Hopefully, things can get sorted out and I can make an informed decision then.

" It does worry you what's going to happen to me with my future. I am sure it's not just me feeling that, but every other player.

"The sooner I can sort it out the better. I have spoken to Leigh, Alun and Sam, and they all feel a weight off their shoulders (after deciding their futures).

"For me, for the next couple of years, I think it would be better if I stayed in Wales, but nothing is set in stone yet."

Flanker Dan Lydiate left the Wales camp to return to France this week, to be with his fiancee for the birth of their child.

The Racing Metro loose-forward is still expected to return to the Wales set-up in time to start in the back-row for Saturday's tournament opener.

Despite uncertainty regarding his future, Priestland has not let it affect his form, enjoying a strong Heineken Cup campaign at the Scarlets and now entrusted with unleashing a star-studded Wales back division.

It all starts this weekend, with Wales aiming to make an immediate statement of intent against opponents they have beaten six times in succession, scoring an average of 30 points.

"All I am trying to do is enjoy my rugby. I've managed to do that for most parts of the season," Priestland added.

"I am delighted to be playing on this occasion, and I hope to show the coaches made the right decision.

"It's good to have a bit of faith from the coaches, and I am just grateful to have the opportunity this time. They have told me just to play my own game.

"This is the best season I have had, so, hopefully, that form will transfer from my regional team to international level. There is a fantastic team around me, so I don't see why I can't be the best, this Six Nations, I have ever been.

"This year I have not let anything (criticism) like that worry me.

"Everyone seems to be a rugby expert in Wales when the Six Nations comes along, but the ones who matter are the coaches and people who I train alongside and work with every day.

"It's what happens on the field that matters."

Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) later issued a statement expressing its surprise at "the introduction of one individual national contract at this particular time".

It said the Warburton development had left the RRW "bemused", adding that the organisation "would question the strategy behind the bizarre action by the WRU, given that a final agreement on the future of Welsh Rugby has yet to be reached".

The statement continued: "The Regions would ask what kind of message this sends out about Welsh Rugby to our colleagues in the game across the world.

"The Regions would also question how one national contract works as a constructive and sustainable strategy for the whole of Welsh rugby, given that we have some 200 professional players in Wales contracted to the Regions."

RRW stressed, though, that it has "the utmost respect for Sam Warburton as a player, a leader, a young man of great integrity and as an important role model for every young rugby player inside and outside Wales", and that it "respects and supports the right of Sam or any individual to make their own decision for their future based on their understanding of the choices available to them at any one time".

Warburton used his column for Thursday morning's Daily Telegraph to outline his position.

"I told the union I only wanted to sign a central contract if I could play for the Cardiff Blues," he wrote in a piece initially published online on Wednesday evening.

"So I hope nobody thinks that I am turning my back on the Blues. I am not. I supported Cardiff as a youngster and have come through their system.

"I am Cardiff through and through and would find it uncomfortable playing for anyone else. If I had not been able to play for the Blues, it would have been back to the drawing board."

The flanker admitted he had considered a switch to France following last summer's successful British and Irish Lions tour, but quickly decided in favour of staying in Cardiff and labelled the contract a "great opportunity" to do so.

He added: "I think central contracts can work, and will work. I am sure more Wales players will sign up, and it will become clear that it is not the WRU competing against the regions. It is about everyone working together."


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