Warburton sets Contract Deadline

Warburton in action for Wales

Wales, Cardiff Blues and Lions Captain Sam Warburton says that he wants a deal to stay in his country of birth sorted by tomorrow (Wednesday), or else he will be forced to join the majority of the current Welsh national side on mass exodus from the country.

The open-side's contract expires this summer and amid uncertainty over the future of Welsh domestic rugby, he wants his playing future settled.

Wales' four regions - the Blues, Ospreys, Scarlets and Dragons - have been operating under a £3.5m salary cap since July 2012.

The financial uncertainly has led to Warburton joining a host of players considering their playing futures beyond the end of the 2013-14 campaign.

Should Warburton move, the Lions Captain would join the likes of Lee Byrne, Luke Charteris, James Hook, Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, George North all practicing their trade on foreign soil; with the addition of Jon Davies and Ian Evans from 2014.

Three of the current Welsh team have this season committed to new contracts – Cardiff wing Alex Cuthbert, Ospreys fly-half Dan Biggar and Dragons number eight Toby Faletau.

However, five more experienced Welsh Lions are out of contract at the end of the season - Leigh Halfpenny, Warburton (both Blues), Hibbard, Adam Jones and, Alun Wyn Jones (all Ospreys) – all of whom may struggle to apply their trade in Wales next year.

The mass exodus of home grown talent moving away from the nation has now become desperate.

Lions and Wales coach Warren Gatland has warned Weksh rugby “ill afford” to lose a player of Warburton’s stature, when he spoke to the BBC today.

"For me it would be such a shame to lose someone of Sam's stature - he is the Wales captain, he is the current Lions captain and I think we can ill afford, from a union's point of view and from a regional point of view, to lose someone of that sort of calibre."

However, the New Zealand-born coach acknowledged the temptation of taking huge money elsewhere, particularly the Top 14, for a professional athlete with a limited shelf-life already.

The victorious Lions boss referred to Welsh footballer Gareth Bale's record-breaking transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid earlier this year.

"We've got to face reality in terms of the economics and these guys are involved in professional sport," added Gatland.

"And if we can't match the huge offers that are being given to them overseas then sometimes you can't begrudge players those chances.

"They're only in his game for a short time in terms of a professional career and it's about looking after themselves and potentially their future and their families.

"We wouldn't be asking Gareth Bale to turn down that sort of money to play in Wales, if that's what it meant.

"So let's just make sure that we're practical about it and sensible."

Gatland repeated his desire for anyone leaving Wales to ensure they have full release for all Wales playing and training duties.

Meanwhile, ex-Wales number eight Stuart Davies hopes Warburton can be persuaded to stay in Wales.

"With the competition that's out there from abroad it's not a battle that the Blues can win on their own," Davies said.

"With the context of the cap that's in place and the salary someone of Warburton's stature can command in the game these days you have to sympathise with the region that they can't cover it alone," Davies told BBC Radio Wales Sport.

"They probably can't put a package together that can keep Warburton in the place that he wants to stay by all accounts."

WRU chief executive Roger Lewis has previously said the union is committed to the supporting the regions.

"We sincerely hope that our professional regional organisations are able to retain their best players in Wales," Lewis said.