Common sense can solve impasse between Wales and Rhys Webb

Rhys Webb made his Wales debut in 2012 but injuries and the presence of Mike Phillips conspired to restrict his cap count. Antoine Gyori/Getty Images

It has been an eventful couple of days for Warren Gatland. On Tuesday, he received the news that Rhys Webb will be unavailable after this season unless he cancels his move to Toulon.

Uncharacteristically his reaction appeared to be that he was very unhappy with that outcome -- as if Gatland's Law and this change to the way it works were not what he wanted or intended.

You cannot have it all ways. You must accept it is impossible for a relatively poor country [in terms of rugby income] like Wales to keep its best players on home soil or you take the consequences. Wales, even with dual contracts, cannot begin to match the salaries being offered by English and French clubs.

It is the same for Australia, hence their 60 cap rule, and Wales following suit certainly helps but it is a blunt instrument and I would have liked to see a more subtle approach.

Webb is a special case. He was a comparatively late bloomer and he was also in an unusual situation in that Mike Phillips blocked his way into the national team for a very long period. Phillips ended up winning 94 caps during an international career that lasted 12 seasons -- extraordinary by any standards.

That left Webb picking up the odd cap off the bench until he finally took over in 2015. He has actually been in the national squad since 2012 which means it is now seven seasons since he was first capped. If he had been the No. 1 throughout that time he would have won well over the 60-cap qualifier.

Instead he has to make a choice. Does he complete the move that will make him and his family rich -- Webb is 29 in December so this is probably his last shot at big money -- or does he turn it down and stay in Wales for the sake of his country. It is a choice he should not have to make.

England, New Zealand and France can afford to play hardball with their players -- they have the strength in depth and the financial clout to make sure everybody is happy -- the rest of the rugby world do not have the same luxury.

Is it too late to ask the WRU to modify its ruling -- maybe 60 caps or more than five seasons in the national squad? A moment of common sense can solve this one.

It also seems that Gatland is not quite as thick skinned as we all believed. He handled all the hostility from the New Zealand press with great humour and an admirable sense of perspective when he was actually on tour but the attack by Sean O'Brien, one of his trusted lieutenants, was obviously totally unexpected and pierced his armour.

"I don't know what planet he is on, saying that," he said in response to O'Brien's claim that he got the preparation all wrong and that the Lions should have won by a 3-0 margin. "You watch how hard the coaches and the backroom staff worked -- they worked their absolute bollocks off on that tour -- and then to have someone come out and make a comment like that ... it really, really did hurt. I wouldn't subject myself to that again."

He appears even more hurt that O'Brien has not had the politeness [you sense he would really like to say 'guts'] to return his phone calls and explain the "taken out of context" excuse he apparently received by text.

It did more than take away the gloss. "I'm done. I hated the tour. I just hated the press and the negativity in New Zealand."

By that he meant he was done with the Lions. Quite an outburst from a man who has not lost a series as head coach and has a better record than anybody, ever, apart from Sir Ian McGeechan.

Because of that it comes as a huge surprise -- he was obviously closer to exploding whilst in New Zealand than anyone realised. He was loudly applauded when he appeared at the press conference after the last Test wearing a clown's red nose -- it appeared the perfect, measured response to the vicious criticism he had received from his own countrymen throughout the series, especially when he revealed he had bought it before the second Test but thought it wrong to celebrate victory over 14 men.

I do not believe there was any question of him being asked to coach for a third time but he has now ruled that out completely. I am sure he will head for home on a permanent basis after the 2019 Rugby World Cup whatever happens -- it may be an impossible dream but he still wants to coach the All Blacks.

This is a very uncharacteristic outburst, one I never expected, but so was O'Brien's. I would have been disappointed if Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell had not taken responsibility for shaping the way the backs played and the suggestion that the Lions could have whitewashed the All Blacks is, as Gatland pointed out, disrespectful to New Zealand.

When all the dust has settled the shared series will go down as an amazing feat but historians will point to the fact that the Lions were walloped in the first match, a little lucky in the second -- up against 14 men for most of the game -- and should have been 15 to 20 points down after 20 minutes in the third if New Zealand had taken their chances.

Their comeback, though, was proof that there was nothing wrong with the team spirit so Gatland and his coaches must have got something right.