Welsh rugby set for judgement day after furious Wales stars refuse to buckle over strike… with Six Nations clash against England in major doubt unless WRU agree to players’ three demands on Wednesday
- Players have set a deadline of Wednesday for the issues to be resolved
- Wales boss Warren Gatland delayed his team announcement on Tuesday
- Welsh rugby fans ‘100 per cent’ behind Wales stars in contract dispute
Wales’ Six Nations stars refused to buckle under pressure on Tuesday from their rugby bosses with the nation now set for judgement day on a possible player strike.
It is no exaggeration to say that the very future of Wales’ national game rests on what will happen in discussions between the Welsh Rugby Union and Warren Gatland’s players.
On Wednesday morning, Welsh rugby’s Professional Rugby Board, which is made up of representatives from the WRU, the country’s four regions and two independent voters, will meet. Later, in the afternoon, the PRB will sit down with every professional player in Wales.
Unless the two parties can come to an agreement on the demands put forward by the players, the Wales squad are still intent on striking for Saturday’s crunch Championship game with England.
On Tuesday, Wales head coach Gatland expressed his belief there would soon be a resolution and that the England match would be on.
Wales players are still considering strike action ahead of their Six Nations clash with England
But on the day Gatland cancelled naming his team for the scheduled Principality Stadium clash at the 11th hour, no such agreement was reached.
As they left their training base in the Vale of Glamorgan, members of Gatland’s squad indicated to Sportsmail a player meeting had come up with no solutions.
It means Welsh rugby’s day of destiny has now arrived.
Sportsmail understands Wales’ players, who have laid out three main demands, were furious at being put under pressure to withdraw their strike threat and agree to the terms proposed by the WRU.
One of their stipulations is the abolishment of Welsh rugby’s controversial 60 cap rule which restricts players from playing domestic rugby outside of Wales and also featuring at international level unless they have that number of Test appearances. Interim WRU chief executive Nigel Walker is understood to be trying to lower that number to around 30 which has not been well received.
Wales’ players also want the removal of a variable element of their contracts and a player voice at PRB level and only one of those has been rectified to date. Even that – the player representation aspect – hasn’t been fully delivered. Welsh Rugby Players’ Association chief executive Gareth Lewis will be able to sit in on PRB meetings, but not be able to vote.
Gatland’s squad trained on Tuesday morning but their scheduled afternoon session was cancelled in order for further meetings to take place.
Gatland said doing so was in order to get ‘clarity’ and he added: ‘I’m confident with the discussions taking place something will get resolved.’
That hasn’t happened, not yet anyway.
Wales coach Warren Gatland can’t guarantee his side will play England on Saturday
Gatland is hopeful that a resolution will be reached to stop players going on strike
It all amounted to yet another day of chaos in what is turning into one of the biggest crises in Welsh rugby history. Stoke City’s players shared the same Vale facilities as the Wales squad to prepare for their Championship clash with Swansea. As they slouched around in their socks and sliders waiting for kick-off, Dwight Gayle and his Potters team-mates were seemingly completely unaware of the sense of impending rugby doom surrounding them.
‘I think it (a strike) is a genuine threat – there is no doubt about that,’ Gatland said.
He is right. It must not be forgotten that cancelling the England game would cost Welsh rugby in the region of £9million and put the final nail in its current financial coffin.
‘What the players are asking for is definitely reasonable. There needs to be some negotiation,’ said Gatland. ‘It’s like everything – you have to find some middle ground.’
No such ground has yet been found. All 200 or so professional players in Wales will turn up at the Vale knowing that whatever happens, the country’s game is likely to change irrevocably. Gatland said he hasn’t looked at the option of finding a squad who would be willing to play if strike action is passed.
But Sportsmail understands that if the England game does go ahead, Cardiff’s 20-year-old centre Mason Grady is very much in the frame to make a Test debut.
Wales’ players are still threatening to strike for the England match due to the fact the WRU and the regions have yet to officially sign a new six-year funding agreement. It means that the 90 or so Welsh-based players who are out of contract at the end of the season can’t be offered new ones.
Wales will face a crunch day on Wednesday when all professional players will meet
There is also the potential for short-term decisions to be made today (WEDS) in a rush to avoid a player strike that could have long-term impacts in years if not decades to come. For example, abolishing the 60 cap rule would likely lead to a Welsh player exodus.
Sportsmail first revealed that Welsh player strike action was a possibility last week and eight days on, that remains the case. In the background, there is also huge dissatisfaction at regional level.
The four sides – Dragons, Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets – are unwilling to sign an agreement that would see their annual funding from the WRU drop significantly. Everywhere you look in Welsh rugby right now, a fire burns.
Several of them will have to be put out if a player strike is to be averted.
As Welsh rugby’s very own judgement day arrives, the power remains in the players’ hands.
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