Wales cancel team announcement as strike threatens England Six Nations clash
Wales have postponed the planned announcement of their team to face England as the threat of a players strike continues to loom over the Six Nations clash.
Warren Gatland had been due to announce his matchday 23 for the fixture at 12pm on Tuesday, but has pushed back his team naming until Thursday.
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and players are locked in negotiations over contracts for next season, with deals yet to be offered to out-of-contract players.
The Welsh national squad have said they will go on strike if the WRU fail to meet a number of demands by Wednesday evening, throwing a marquee encounter in Cardiff into significant doubt.
The confirmation of the postponement of the team naming came little more than half-an-hour before the planned release at noon, continuing a chaotic week, though Gatland insisted he was “confident” that the game would still go ahead.
“I think with the uncertainty of what is happening, I wanted to make sure we have got clarity,” Gatland explained of his decision to postpone. “We’ll announce the team on Thursday.
“[I’ve got no assurances the game will go ahead] at the moment, but I’m confident that hopefully something will get resolved today. The players have had probably half a dozen meetings over the last couple of days.”
All Welsh professional players have been invited to a meeting with WRU officials on Wednesday for a crunch meeting in a bid to avoid a strike.
Welsh rugby could lose out on a figure of around £9 million were the England game forced to be cancelled, but Gatland believes a breakthrough in talks may be close.
“I’m hearing positive things from both sides. Hopefully the discussions will be acceptable in terms of making some sort of compromise and we can get on with the game.
“I’m hopeful it will be sorted out today. It’s been a challenge but you have got to put things behind you and hopefully focus on the game.”
Alongside the possible strike of national team players, Welsh players’ body chairman Ashton Hewitt has confirmed that strikes at the nation’s four regions are being considered.
The players have been negotiating over three key demands: a reversal on the planned introduction of a variable element of their contracts, the removal of the controversial 60 cap rule, and the establishment of a player voice at Professional Rugby Board (PRB) level.
PRB chair Malcolm Wall apologised to players on Sunday and suggested that resolution was close to being reached on the latter two demands, though no announcements have yet been made.
“We have been working a new long-term sustainable funding model for too long,” Wall told BBC Scrum V.
“I recognise we haven’t got that funding model in place and that is having an impact on being able to offer contracts.
“I unreservedly apologise on behalf of the PRB for the stress and discomfort the players obviously feel.
“I am genuinely upset and feel very personally I have not done what I should have done as PRB chair in getting to the place with the long-form agreement and remove the uncertainty.
“We have to move through this at speed and have greater transparency.”