Wales manager Warren Gatland said he would not support his players if they decided to strike ahead of their Six Nations clash with England. The possibility has been mooted amid the ongoing uncertainty caused by Welsh rugby’s professional contract freeze.
However, when asked if he would support his players if they decided not to play against England, Gatland said: “No. I fully support the stance they’re taking in terms of wanting to get some resolution to the issues that they have, but I think there’s a lot more involved, a lot more at stake in terms of making sure that this fight happens.
As I’ve said, I support the players and the things they’re trying to do and my role is just to get the team ready for next week.
Earlier, the Welsh Rugby Players’ Association (WRPA) said it was “extremely disappointed” with the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions, accusing them of a lack of compassion for players as the crisis threatening to engulf rugby in the country intensified.
The players threatened a strike on Tuesday that could jeopardize their Six Nations match against England in response to a new six-year player deal proposed by the Professional Rugby Board, the body that includes the WRU and the regions.
Having accepted 20% pay cuts during the Covid period, players in Wales now face further cuts. The take-or-leave-it deal which must be signed by February 28 – three days after the England match – would mean lower wages and bonuses for the first time in the contracts.
The PRB released a statement on Wednesday saying there was “no room for manoeuvre” in player contract budgets and “the cold hard facts are that the WRU and clubs are paying wages their businesses cannot afford”.
The answer Thursday was clear. “The WRPA is extremely disappointed by the publication of a statement by the PRB and the way it portrays players in Wales and the WRPA’s ongoing relationship with the PRB,” it said.
“There has been a long delay in information arriving at the WRPA and the consultation on a proposed new pay structure which only started a few weeks ago… Receiving this information during the season and the lack of compromise has added to the uncertainty and fears that The players face their future.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s statement from the PRB, Ospreys lock and former Wales international Bradley Davies urged the club to listen to players’ concerns about the future of rugby in the country and make the necessary changes to avoid a strike.
The PRB’s response to the situation, however, has sparked the ire of players. “This has a profound effect on players, especially those out of contract, and places an unacceptable burden on mental health and general well-being,” the WRPA said.
“The strike is something we wish to avoid and our members want to play on the pitch as always, but clearly the stress of the situation is now affecting the lives and professions of the players. The players have had enough. This is not a Championship Manager game.”