The Six Nations rugby match between Wales and England looked increasingly under threat of a players’ strike after the Wales team announcement was delayed yesterday amid contract talks.
Wales coach Warren Gatland held off announcing his team for Saturday’s game at Principality Stadium, raising the stakes in a standoff between the country’s top players and Welsh rugby authorities that has been simmering for months.
Talks between negotiators of a new six-year financial agreement — the Professional Rugby Board — and Wales’ professional players are scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
The players are mostly unhappy they are being offered contracts that would see them receive 80% of their salary, with the remaining 20% comprising bonuses.
They also want Wales’ minimum 60-cap selection rule for players playing outside the country to be scrapped, and a voice at meetings of the Professional Rugby Board.
No long-form agreement between the Welsh Rugby Union and Wales’ four professional rugby regions — Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys, Scarlets — has yet been agreed in writing. That means players whose contracts expire at the end of this season currently cannot be offered new deals.
Gatland said at a news conference there had been “half a dozen” meetings over the last few days and felt it would be best to delay the team announcement because of “the uncertainty of what’s happening.”
“I am confident that from the discussions that are taking place, something will get resolved today,” Gatland said.
The New Zealander said a training session planned for after his news conference has been canceled to allow for further talks.
“It’s a been a bit of a challenge,” he said, “but sometimes that galvanizes people.
“In fairness to the players, they are training. Even this morning, they put their training heads on and trained well. We had a good week last week. There have been things going on behind — we are well aware of that — but everyone who has come to training has applied themselves well.”
Gatland said he hadn’t made any contingency plans in case an agreement is not reached.
Wales has lost the first two matches of the Six Nations — against Ireland then Scotland — for the first time in 16 years.
The Welsh haven’t started with three straight losses since 2003.MDT/AP