Six Nations: Wales vs England ON after breakthrough in WRU strike talks

Six Nations: Wales vs England ON after breakthrough in WRU strike talks

WalesSix Nations clash with England will go ahead on Saturday after crunch meetings helped avert a player strike.

Welsh players and union bosses were locked in talks for the bulk of Wednesday, before brokering a deal to ensure the Cardiff clash will stick to schedule.

The months-long freeze on new player contracts will be lifted next week and the 60-cap overseas player selection rule will be cut to 25 caps.

Saturday’s match will net the WRU up to £10million, a sizeable chunk of revenue that the cash-strapped body can ill afford to lose.

A potential first strike in Wales’ 142 years of rugby has been narrowly avoided though, after days of fraught negotiations. The WRU has for months failed to push through reduced playing budgets for the regions for next season, off the back of the Covid pandemic.

“I’m pleased to announce that after extensive conversations and discussions over the last week, the Wales-England game will go ahead as scheduled,” said acting WRU chief executive Nigel Walker.

“It’s important going forward that we continue the dialogue over the last week or so, but not under the circumstances we have had over the last week or so. Ken [Owens] and I and some of the senior players will be meeting more regularly than perhaps we have in the past.”

As many as 90 players have contracts still expiring this summer, and union and regional bosses should have tied up deals for next term before the end of 2022. The uncertainty has left players fearing for their futures, despite an acceptance that salaries will be cut amid a bleak financial picture.

The WRU’s Professional Rugby Board has now confirmed the contracts freeze will be lifted next week though and the long-negotiated six-year funding deal for the regions should be ratified.

The Welsh Rugby Players Association will now have a seat in PRB meetings, though without voting rights.

The reduction in the caps limit on Test selection for overseas-based players represents a compromise, with players initially seeking for the rule to be abolished. A lowered limit to 25 caps will allow players to seek big contracts abroad at a younger age while also extending their Test careers.

Relieved captain Ken Owens insisted Wales will be ready for Saturday’s Test battle.

“We are obviously happy, there has been huge frustration over the last number of months that it got to this stage,” said Owens.

“We felt we had to make a stand, but the conversations that have taken place over the last 10 days or so have shown that some positive resolutions can be found. The players are satisfied, hence why the game is on on Saturday. It has been very tough, hugely frustrating.

“It has been a difficult period, but we have fronted up in training and prepared as we would for any Test match and we are looking forward to getting out there and going toe-to-toe with England.”

Wales must now set about preparing for an increasingly pivotal, and emotionally charged, encounter. Head coach Warren Gatland had ripped up yesterday’s schedule to allow for extra crisis talks.

The Wales boss delayed naming his team for Saturday’s Test match and even cancelled afternoon training. Those sizeable moves were taken in a bid to push through a solution that would set Wales’ week back onto a normal course, but hurriedly arranged meetings yesterday afternoon failed to yield any tangible progress.

Gatland will now name Wales’ team tomorrow, with the squad jumping straight back into preparations for Saturday’s Principality Stadium battle.