Wales secure captain Sam Warburton's future in ground-breaking deal
Last Updated: 25/01/14 4:56pm
Sam Warburton has signed a ground-breaking central contract with the Welsh Rugby Union.
Under the new agreement the Wales captain will be paid by the governing body from next season and released to the Cardiff Blues at no cost when he is not required for international duty.
The deal comes days after Cardiff's Leigh Halfpenny became the latest high-profile player to agree a move to France amid ongoing uncertainty over the future of Welsh regional rugby.
And the WRU says it "signals the launch of a new arrangement for keeping key international players at the Welsh Regions".
"Welsh rugby together cannot stand back any longer and watch its best players leave Wales. We all have to act together and act now in the best interests of the game."
Warburton said: "I am delighted to commit my future to Welsh rugby. I would like to thank the WRU for its commitment to me.
"Now that my future is secured within Wales I look forward to focusing on the Six Nations and beyond."
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: "We have been able to strike a deal which ensures the Welsh captain will continue to play his rugby at the highest level here in Wales.
"Welsh rugby together cannot stand back any longer and watch its best players leave Wales. We all have to act together and act now in the best interests of the game.
"There can be no better message to current and future internationals than the decision of Sam Warburton to become the first senior player to sign a WRU National Contract and commit to Regional rugby and international rugby in Wales."
The WRU also said talks with the four regions were "progressing" as a new way forward for Welsh rugby is sought.
Further negotiations are planned for next week as the two sides aim to reach agreement on key areas such as revenue and competition structure.