Joe Hawkins reveals he was on £20,000-a-year academy contract while playing for Wales in this year’s Six Nations… as 20-year-old centre lifts the lid on his controversial move from Ospreys to Exeter
- Hawkins has been at the heart of a fierce debate over Wales’ selection policy
- The 20-year-old is no longer eligible to play for Wales after signing for Exeter
- Players with less than 25 caps cannot play their club rugby outside the country
Joe Hawkins was earning £20,000-a-year while representing Wales in this year’s Six Nations – the paltry salary a big contributing factor to his controversial move to Exeter.
Last week it was confirmed Hawkins is no longer eligible to play international rugby because he has decided to swap Welsh region Ospreys for the Gallagher Premiership.
The promising 20-year-old centre has been at the heart of a fierce debate surrounding Wales’ selection policy which states that any player with less than 25 caps cannot play their club rugby outside the country and also represent Warren Gatland’s national side. Hawkins has five caps to his name.
He has thus been deemed unable to play at the World Cup later this year by Welsh rugby’s Professional Rugby Board. Had Hawkins officially signed with Exeter before his international debut last autumn, he would have remained eligible to play for Wales.
It’s understood Hawkins signed a heads of terms contract with Exeter prior to his first squad selection but this did not meet the requirements of the Welsh Rugby Union and the PRB.
Joe Hawkins has been at the heart of a fierce debate surrounding Wales’ selection policy
The 20-year-old is no longer eligible to play international rugby after signing for Exeter
Wales head coach Gatland described Hawkins’ decision to switch to Exeter as ‘disappointing’ given he started the first four games in the Six Nations.
Mail Sport has learned however that during that Championship, Hawkins was still earning an academy wage at the Ospreys despite the fact he had progressed to rugby’s highest level.
It is also understood that despite ticking the right boxes for his salary to increase significantly under Welsh rugby’s previous pay banding system, the Ospreys did not bump up Hawkins’ pay packet and neither did the WRU step in.
It’s understood that there was no system in place for the PRB to regulate and punish Wales’ four regions if they didn’t adhere to the banding framework.
The feeling amongst the players was that the salaries of Wales’ international stars were monitored carefully but the salaries of young players were not given the same attention with many left out of pocket when they then progressed through the ranks quicker than anticipated.
It meant that despite making his Wales debut against Australia last autumn and being a Six Nations regular, Hawkins’ annual salary remained a pittance compared to that of his international team-mates. Welsh rugby’s banding system previously stated new internationals should be on circa £100,000-a-year.
Hawkins alluded to this when explaining his move to Exeter on social media.
‘While I have spent the last three years playing professional rugby, and later international rugby, I have been held to an academy contract being significantly underpaid,’ Hawkins said.
‘I want to acknowledge that by signing for Exeter Chiefs, my first professional contract, I have fully prioritised my rugby career. I have done so with my professional development, personal development and financial security in mind.
Hawkins was only earning £20,000-a-year when he represented Wales in the Six Nations
‘The turbulent period in Welsh rugby, where there were no contracts on offer in Wales, put all out-of-contract players under pressure. Witnessing the number of players currently out of a job in Wales has reinforced my decision.’
After a season of financial chaos in the Welsh game, players who were out of contract at the end of this season were finally able to be offered new deals towards the end of the Six Nations.
But an improved offer from the Ospreys to keep hold of Hawkins came too late, with the player prioritising certain employment at Exeter ahead of international caps.
It is understood Hawkins and Exeter were prepared to agree a deal where the player’s Sandy Park contract could start after the World Cup so that he could play in the tournament in France.
But that proposal was rejected by the PRB which is made up of representatives from the WRU and the four regions. The result is that for now, Hawkins’ international career is at an end.
Wales’ controversial selection ruling remains a huge talking point and on the day Hawkins was deemed ineligible, former England prop Henry Thomas – who is based in Montpellier – was selected in Gatland’s wider World Cup training squad.
Gatland acknowledged that Hawkins’ move shows the lure of international rugby is no longer enough to keep Wales’ best players in the country.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland described Hawkins’ move to Exeter as ‘disappointing’
‘Absolutely. I’ve made that point and we’re now a reflection of where Welsh rugby has been at for a number of years. We’ve got to hopefully put things right,’ Gatland said.
‘There is an opportunity now. The regions have got to deal with the Union and put plans in place in terms of moving forward. I’ve commented on this a number of times in the past.
‘These issues have been here before and we were probably blocking up the dam in terms of them not really coming to the fore because of the success we had.
‘I think the onus is on all of us to be more successful so we retain our players and they want to be part of teams which are successful here.’
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