Warren Gatland hopeful of resolution but says player strike is ‘genuine threat’
Warren Gatland has described possible strike action by the Wales players as “a genuine threat” – but he remains confident that Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against England will go ahead.
Players have threatened to strike over a contract dispute that remains unresolved just four days before the showpiece fixture in Cardiff.
Gatland delayed the announcement of his team for the game on Tuesday, and cancelled the afternoon’s planned training session as talks continued.
Talks between negotiators of a new six-year financial agreement – the Professional Rugby Board – and Welsh professional players had been due to take place on Wednesday, but Gatland had been hopeful of a solution being reached before then.
“I am confident that with the discussions taking place hopefully something will get resolved today,” the Wales head coach said on Tuesday.
“There have probably been half a dozen meetings over the last few days.
“Today was supposed to be a double (training) session, but we have kept it to just this morning so we are not training this afternoon. Hopefully, those things get resolved and the boys turn up on Thursday raring to go for Saturday.
“I am hearing positive things from both sides. Hopefully the discussions will be acceptable to both sides in terms of getting some compromise, and we can get on with the game.”
Asked about the prospect of a strike if nothing is agreed, Gatland added: “I think it is a genuine threat, there is no doubt about that.
“Having spoken to a few people today, I am confident that we will get some resolution.
“What the players were asking for is definitely reasonable. There needs to be some negotiation. It’s like everything, you have to find some middle ground.
“Hopefully, in the discussions today there will be some middle ground where the players are happy and the Professional Rugby Board are also happy with some of the decisions they make as well.
“The thing is, when you are in discussions, it is not always about win-win for one side. You have to find some compromise.”
On the reason behind delaying the team announcement, he said: “I think the uncertainty of what’s happening. There has been a lot of meetings going on.
“So I just wanted to make sure we got clarity in terms of the boys have got a day off tomorrow and they come back in on Thursday and we will announce the team on Thursday.
“It has been a bit of a challenge, but sometimes that galvanises people and brings them together.
“I don’t think there is going to be any lack of motivation for a player playing against England. The boys have got a day off tomorrow, and I am sure if things are resolved they will come back and they will be completely focused on the game.”
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The players want Wales’ minimum 60-cap selection rule for those plying their trade outside the country to be scrapped, a voice at PRB meetings and a review of proposed fixed-variable contracts.
Those contracts would guarantee a player only 80 per cent of their salary, with the remaining 20 per cent comprising bonuses, and is the players’ major grievance.
No long-form agreement between the WRU and Wales’ four professional regions – Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets – has yet been agreed in writing, meaning players whose contracts expire at the end of this season currently cannot be offered new deals.
Wales are looking to claim a first win of this season’s Six Nations after suffering comprehensive defeats in their opening two fixtures against Ireland and Scotland.
It is the first time for 16 years that Wales have lost their first two championship games, while three defeats to start with last happened during their 2003 Six Nations campaign under head coach Steve Hansen.
Despite the off-field issues, Gatland was taking a philosophical approach to the early stages of his second stint in the role, having held the position between 2008 and 2019, when Wales won four Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and reached two World Cup semi-finals.
Asked if he had any regrets about returning, he replied: “No. It has been a bit of a whirlwind and it has been challenging. You have got to accept what you are faced with.
“I wish I had have known a few things that were going on, actually. It is what it is, and you have just got to take it on the chin and focus on your role and your job in terms of preparing the team.
“I think we have all been asking for things to get sorted. I wasn’t aware of any of the issues going on when I took the job.”