Welsh rugby bosses were warned over strike action months ago as player speak out

One player has told ITV Wales that "Welsh rugby is a very dark place at the moment". Credit: PA

Welsh rugby bosses were warned Test players were considering strike action as early as last November, ITV Wales understands.

And whilst it remains a possibility, it is understood that it is the last option players wish to take.

Four months ago, during the autumn international series that included a first ever defeat to Georgia, players were already distracted by their contractual situation.

For over 12 months, the WRU and four professional sides - Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets - have been in protracted financial negotiations.

Swathes of players across Welsh rugby are out of contract this summer. Credit: PA

As things stand, a financial agreement that outlines what level of payments the WRU will make to the professional outfits is yet to be finalised.

It means the clubs are unable to table concrete contractual offers. Swathes of players across Welsh rugby are out of contract this summer, including a handful of members of the current international side. Their futures remain uncertain and the threat of an injury that could throw their livelihood into doubt is real.

During the November campaign, the players demanded a meeting with then-CEO Steve Phillips to find out what was going on. That meeting never took place.

Cardiff's Principality Stadium is the home of the Wales national rugby union team and has also held a number of large-scale concerts.

But the players’ feelings were beyond doubt and it was decided that strike action would be revisited during the Six Nations the matter was not resolved.

The WRU’s response was to announce that a financial agreement with the clubs had been reached in principle. But clubs are still unable to offer unconditional contracts to players and it has done little to quell their concerns.

It is against this backdrop that Wales have taken the field this month and put in uncharacteristically poor performances, suffering heavy defeats to Ireland and Scotland.

Whilst some Test players are impacted, regional players are feeling this the most.

It is believed that significant portions of the Scarlets and Ospreys squads are coming out of contract this summer. The situations at Cardiff and Dragons will be similar.

It is having a significant impact on players’ mental wellbeing. ITV Wales is aware of some players struggling to get mortgages because of their precarious financial position.

'All the boys want is a voice'

Speaking at an Ospreys press conference today, lock Bradley Davies said: “It’s very difficult. Personally, I’m coming to the end of my career but I’d put it to anyone - how would you feel if you were told that there could be a contract there for you but it’s 100 percent guarantee that you’ll be paid less than you were before, and you’re not even guaranteed that money at the moment.

“Then you’re expected to go out and play rugby. Yes we choose to be rugby players but we’re not asking for more money, we’re asking for a voice in the way things are run.

“We’ve got zero input, we’re expected to rock up to work, run into a brick wall, take your money, get up Monday and go again.

“The truth of the matter is, the boys want to play rugby, they want to find a solution, we want us all to be much better.

“For me it’s difficult but you’ve got younger boys who don’t know if they’re going to get contracts. Then they’ve got to go and play rugby. Do you keep playing? Do you worry about getting injured?

“All the boys want is a voice. A bit of a heads up, a bit of negotiation.”

Wales' Bradley Davies says the team are asking for a voice in the way things are run. Credit: PA

On the subject of a potential strike, Davies added: “It’s an option but it’s the last option. The boys don’t want to strike. We want Welsh rugby to get better again, they want to move forward.

“But boys are playing Test match rugby and some don’t know if they’ve got a job in four months.”

Welsh rugby is a 'very dark place'

One player, who wished to remain anonymous, told ITV Wales: “It’s all the boys are talking about every day. There is complete uncertainty about contracts and figures.

“Boys are suffering with anxiety and their mental wellbeing. Welsh rugby is a very dark place at the moment.”

It’s thought that the deal on the table between the WRU and the clubs currently represents a significant reduction compared to previous agreements.

This would result in a reduction in player salaries. But they want assurances that the financial pain is being spread evenly.

The player continued: “The Union don’t consult with the players when it comes to contracts or decisions that impact the pro game, they decide and then dictate.

“Players want to know that everyone is taking that financial hit - coaches and executives.”

WRU has been paying salaries it 'can't afford'

Professional Rugby Board chair Malcolm Wall said: "The new agreement offers a complete funding package to the professional game in Wales, but it does come with financial limitations which will directly affect salary negotiations.

"The cold facts are that the WRU and clubs have been paying salaries that their businesses cannot afford, so the new agreement establishes a new framework for contract negotiations."There is a stipulation that all current contracts will be honoured, but these businesses must return to a sustainable footing in order for the success we all crave to follow.

"The average salary of a Welsh professional rugby player under the new framework will be around £100k-per-year.

"We are confident that our salary packages are in line with the UK market. The PRB accepts that some better funded English and French clubs are paying more, but this is where we must set the mark of sustainability in Wales."

The new six-year agreement reached includes provision for a new approach to international player release, a salary cap and a formal framework for contract negotiations across all four professional sides and the national squad. There is no room for manoeuvre when it comes to the overall budget available for player contracts.

"We have absolute empathy with the professional players in Wales and are hugely grateful for all that they do for our national game, just as our regional sides are for the commitment of their players," added interim WRU CEO Nigel Walker.

He said: "We know we are not in an ideal situation, but it is incredibly important for the whole game in Wales for us to get this next step right.

"We must get this right and if that means taking time to do so then that is the way it must be.

"Throughout all our negotiations our duty of care to our players in Wales has always been of paramount importance and that is why we have developed a solution around current contracts, which has been in place since the New Year.

"The next step is to confirm the deal and confirm these contracts and we will be moving as swiftly as we possibly can to that point."