Gatland wants Wales selection option for Hawkins

Joe Hawkins played fly-half and centre for Wales Under-20s
Joe Hawkins played fly-half and centre for Wales Under-20s [Huw Evans Picture Agency]

Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he would love to be able to select Exeter centre Joe Hawkins and that he has never been in favour of Welsh rugby's cap rule.

Exeter duo Christ Tshiunza and Dafydd Jenkins this week told the Scrum V podcast they want Hawkins to be eligible for Wales selection again and believe his continued omission is "unfair."

Those playing outside Wales are required to have 25 caps to represent their country, that number having been dropped from 60 in February 2023.

The rule was initially brought in during 2017, designed to try and keep the top players in Wales and ironically dubbed "Gatland's Law".

Hawkins, 22, falls foul of the caps policy and missed last year's World Cup because he only had five caps when he made his move from Ospreys to Exeter in 2023.

"I'd love to have him involved," said Gatland.

"Despite what everyone says when it was the 60-cap rule, that it was "Gatland's Law", I was never in favour of it.

"It was something that was pushed hard by the regions in terms of having that implemented. Now it's down to 25 caps."

Pros and cons of 25-cap rule

There have been strengths to the policy which has helped in keeping internationals like Mason Grady, Rio Dyer and Teddy Williams at professional clubs in Wales.

But with Hawkins unavailable for selection, Gatland believes the Wales national team are at a disadvantage.

"We all - the Union and the regions - are finding it difficult financially and there's only one team being punished for that rule and that's us," said Gatland.

"We'd love to have someone of Joe's ability and give him the opportunity to have more Test matches.

"But unfortunately, we're restrained by the regulations within the Union at the moment."

The Professional Rugby Board (PRB), which is made up of representatives from the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the regions, would have to allow Hawkins to be given a special dispensation for him to be available for selection. The other way would be if the rule was scrapped altogether.

The decision to lower the amount of required caps from 60 to 25 was part of the negotiations in February 2023 between the WRU and the players.

It came at a time when the national squad were considering going on strike for the Six Nations home match against England, a threat that was eventually averted.

Gatland admitted the PRB and the Union would have to change any decision now on the 25-cap rule and joked "maybe the players can go on strike again!"

It was a serious point he was highlighting and one that will continue to be debated as the WRU prepare to launch a new strategy later this year.