The return of Welsh trio would be good for rugby union
Gareth Llewellyn-Stevens takes a look at reports Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Mike Phillips are set to return this week
News that Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Mike Phillips could be returning to Wales this week is the latest sign that the grass isn’t always greener in the lucrative Top 14 league in France.
Roberts and Lydiate both left Wales in 2013 to join Racing Metro, but have struggled to establish themselves in the starting XV alongside their international duties.
Meanwhile, Phillips was picked up in December after being sacked by Bayonne for repeated misconduct, but the Parisian outfit seem content to let them go early if their contracts are bought out.
With the Welsh Rugby Union having already established their new dual contract agreement with Regional Rugby Wales after they finally set aside their differences to agree a new rugby services agreement, getting Roberts and Lydiate back should be a matter of formality once they’re allocated to regions.
If they will return to Cardiff Blues and Newport Gwent Dragons, respectively, remains to be seen with neither club participating in the European Rugby Champions Cup which starts on Friday, but there is little doubt that both regions would welcome them back.
There is more chance that the WRU paymasters will demand they join the Ospreys or Scarlets, who face Benetton Treviso and Toulon in round one of the Champions Cup on Sunday.
Whether 32-year-old Phillips is considered for a dual contract as uncertain as which Welsh region he would go to, having already gone through Scarlets, Cardiff Blues and Ospreys between 2001 and 2011.
The Ospreys already have Rhys Webb, Tom Habberfield and brought back Martin Roberts from Bath, the Scarlets have Wales internationals Gareth Davies and Rhodri Williams as well as Aled Davies, and the Blues have brought in Tavis Knoyle to join Lloyd Williams and Lewis Jones as their primary scrum-half options.
Over at Rodney Parade, the Dragons have former Wales international Richie Rees as well as youngsters Johnathan Evans, and Luc Jones, son of director of rugby Lyn Jones, but recently added former exiles Lee Byrne and Aled Brew to their backline and could welcome more experience after a dismal start to the season.
There’s no guarantee Phillips will be wanted.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland will be delighted to see some of his key international players return home and it won’t be long before attention turns to Jonathan Davies, who joined Clermont Auvergne this summer, and Leigh Halfpenny, who only made his Toulon debut on Sunday.
As a well as a lack of game time in France, much as been made about inferior strength and conditioning at the French clubs and, under a dual contract, their game time can be managed by the WRU, with players – like Wales captain Sam Warburton – limited to 16 games a season for their regions.
With England back-rower Steffon Armitage also poised for a return home from reigning French and European champions Toulon in the coming weeks to keep his Rugby World Cup chances alive, there is a dawning reality that, for many British players, there is more to life than a lot of Euros, French culture and better weather.