(Reuters) - Captain Sam Warburton is the first player to sign a central contract with the Welsh Rugby Union as the Six Nations holders look to stem a flow of talent out of domestic rugby.
The 25-year-old, who led the British and Irish Lions to victory over Australia last year, was set to be out of contract with the Cardiff Blues later this year. There had been fears he would join the likes of George North and Leigh Halfpenny, who earlier this week agreed to join French side Toulon, in playing club rugby out of Wales.
"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," WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis said in a statement on its website.
"I am extremely grateful to the Cardiff Blues chairman, Peter Thomas for his understanding when the WRU chairman and I met him on Wednesday to outline this proposed plan.
"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."
The WRU intends for the flanker to continue to keep playing for the Cardiff side outside his Wales duties at no cost to the region, and his salary will be paid by the national body.
It also ensures he will be released for all international duties as required but does not guarantee him selection.
"I am delighted to commit my future to Welsh rugby," Warburton, who has not played since injuring his shoulder in November, said.
"I would like to thank the WRU for its commitment to me."
(Reporting By Josh Reich, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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