Warren Gatland: Wales head coach reveals the impact of strike threat on his squad
Wales head coach Warren Gatland revealed that the threat of strike action caused a split and tension in his Six Nations squad ahead of the Test against England.
The contract row between the Welsh Rugby Union and the players engulfed the build-up to the clash with England a fortnight ago.
“A significant split”
Although a deal was struck between the two parties before the match, averting a strike, Gatland revealed that it still had a negative impact on his squad.
England claimed a 20-10 win over Wales in Round Three, and Gatland has waited until now to reveal some details that led to the defeat.
“In terms of the stuff that was going on off the field, that definitely had an impact,” he said.
“There was quite a significant split in the group over which way to go, and I think that definitely caused some tension within the group for a couple of weeks.
“I think if things do get signed and get sorted and we get Welsh rugby back on the right track, I think it will be positive for everyone.”
Gatland says that he does not begrudge anyone for having their views on the situation and believes that his players are now looking ahead.
“Time was the healer. It was definitely quite fractious there, which is understandable because people have different opinions,” he said.
“I don’t have an issue with that, but sometimes that can create tension, and on reflection, that definitely happened with guys having strong views one way or the other. I think things have settled down over the last couple of weeks.
“There were big moments in the England game where there were no celebrations from our players – no slapping backsides or congratulating guys about turnovers.
“That has sort of been the message this week, making sure we celebrate as a group. When I look back and saw we weren’t doing that against England, that is probably a reflection of where we were as a group.”
In response to a third straight defeat in the Championship, Gatland has made six changes to his starting XV to face Italy.
Full-back Liam Williams, wing Rio Dyer, scrum-half Rhys Webb, prop Wyn Jones, lock Dafydd Jenkins and flanker Jac Morgan all start.
Meanwhile, Leigh Halfpenny (hamstring) and Dan Biggar (back) were not considered, while other players absent include lock Alun Wyn Jones and flanker Christ Tshiunza.
Following three defeats, Gatland admits that there is still plenty of improvement needed.
“We have been disappointed with the results so far, and for me it is hard to take as it is the first time I have lost three games in the Six Nations with Wales,” he added.
“It is about trying to get a handle on where we are, and we have still got a lot of work to do.
“We have got some young players who are pretty exciting and need a bit of time.
“For a number of players, it could be their last year in a Welsh jersey as well, so there will be that sort of transition going forward.
“We are not quite where we want to be in terms of that process, but I can tell we are working hard.
“One of the things I’ve always said is you cannot coach experience. Sometimes, young players make mistakes, and you’ve got to allow them to do that.
“They learn from playing at the highest level and gain that knowledge from international rugby. That’s why for a number of them, we have got to give them time in the middle.”
READ MORE: Six Nations: Rhys Webb one of six changes to Wales team for Italy clash
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