Wales vs England: Judgment day as crisis meetings held to avert Six Nations player strike

In charge: Warren Gatland  (PA)
In charge: Warren Gatland (PA)

Wales’s strike threat was set to go right down to the wire today, amid further crisis meetings to determine the fate of Saturday’s Six Nations clash with England.

Every professional player in Wales had been invited to a meeting outside Cardiff this afternoon to thrash out a final decision on whether to go through with an unprecedented strike.

The Welsh Rugby Union will hold their own crisis summits, too, in a bid to avert a potential first strike in 142 years of rugby in Wales.

The WRU’s Professional Rugby Board will explore further concessions towards player demands, amid continued uncertainty on next season’s finances for Wales’s four regional teams.

The parties will then meet — and only an agreement on specifics of player contracts and terms for next season will be enough to avert industrial action.

The cash-strapped WRU have been battling to push through reduced playing budgets for the regions for next season, off the back of the Covid pandemic.

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

Players in Wales object to a performance-related pay percentage that the Union want to add into new contracts.

The players also want to see Wales’s 60-cap international selection qualification for overseas-based players scrapped. Wales players who move to clubs overseas with fewer than 60 caps currently cannot feature for the Test team. The WRU have suggested cutting this limit in half, but players want the rule removed entirely.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland had hoped ripping up yesterday’s Test team schedule would allow both sides the time to find a resolution.

The Wales boss delayed naming his team for Saturday, and even cancelled afternoon training. Those moves were taken in a bid to set Wales’s week back on a normal course, but hurriedly-arranged meetings yesterday failed to yield any tangible progress.

Gatland is now due to name his Test match line-up tomorrow — but unless the players and the Union can strike a deal today, both that selection and the match itself will remain in major doubt.

The Wales-England clash in Cardiff remains the WRU’s biggest cash cow, with the match worth up to £10million for the Union. The struggling professional game in Wales can ill afford to lose that revenue.