Warren Gatland will 'not support' strike action by players ahead of England Six Nation's match

  • Gatland says he's "confident" the England game will go ahead.

Wales coach Warren Gatland said he would "not support" his players if they decided to strike ahead of their Six Nations match against England.

It comes after the Welsh Rugby Players’ Association said that “players have had enough” amid the ongoing uncertainty caused by Welsh rugby’s professional contracts freeze.

Gatland added whilst he was supportive of the "players' stance", there was a "lot more at stake" in ensuring the game against England happens.

Strike action is now a possibility since recruitment was put on hold and next season’s playing budgets not yet being finalised for the four professional regions; Cardiff, Ospreys, Dragons and Scarlets.

It has forced players to give a deadline of next Wednesday for the problem to be resolved.

ITV Wales also understands players are so disgruntled by the situation, many stood up and walked out of a sponsors dinner together on Wednesday evening.

Players are also refusing to film with Netflix for a behind-the-scenes documentary.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Gatland explained: "I completely support the stance that they're taking in terms of wanting to get some resolution of the issues that they have, but I think there's a lot more involved, a lot of things at stake in terms of ensuring that that fixture does take place.

"Like I've said, I'm supportive of the players and the things that they're trying to do, and my role is just to prepare the team for next week."

He added: "As far as I'm concerned we're just preparing for the game and I'm confident that the game will go ahead."

Following a report that one of his players was taking anti-depressants as a result of the situation, Gatland said he had "no idea" about it and that he wouldn't expect to be told this information: "That would be a break of confidentiality and I would be very unhappy if any of my medical staff breached that confidentiality for any medical condition."

Whilst he said he "understood the frustrations" by players, he acknowledged they have been "fantastic" in the lead up to the England game which is due to take place next Saturday.

  • "The game in Wales has to make a decision in which direction it wants to go"

When asked if he thinks striking is a very real possibility at this stage, Welsh player Alun Wyn Jones replied: "I suppose it is it would be hard to deny, but it's the very last option.

"There are people really impassioned and I think ultimately if you treat people badly for long enough, you get to where we find ourselves and again.

"We realise what we do and how fortunate we are to do it, but if this was any other line of work, any other industry for this period of time, with this amount of uncertainty, you'd get the same reaction and we're very respectful to society as a whole, but it comes to a point now where the game in Wales has to make a decision in which direction it wants to go."

He added athletes in their early twenties should be solely playing for their "enjoyment" and not worrying about where their careers are going in the future.

"I think we're very fortunate, we're all involved in a sport, in a job that we love and to fathom the fact that there's talk we might not do that because of the severity of the situation is very real but it's the last thing we want to do."

When it comes to the argument of players being offered too much money, Gatland said it would be "disingenuous" to blame the athletes: "You can't blame the players for being offered contracts and money. If someone offers you £30,000 to £40,000 more than you're on now and your salary goes up to 300 from 260 then how can you blame the players for accepting contracts? So it's a little bit disingenuous to say the players are being paid too much.

Negotiations on the future of the professional game in Wales are handled by the Professional Rugby Board (PRB), which comprises representatives from each of the regions, acting WRU chief executive Nigel Walker, WRU finance director Tim Moss and two independent members, including chair Malcolm Wall.

A new financial agreement between the regions and the WRU has still to be confirmed in writing, sparking concern that a number of players whose contracts expire at the end of this season will head away from Wales.

Former Wales captain Sam Warburton says he supports the strike threat as players are "simply not being valued". Credit: PA Images

In a statement, the Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) said it was "deeply concerning that until the long-form agreement is signed and active, no players’ futures are guaranteed".

It added that the situation is having a profound impact on players "mental health and overall wellbeing" and that strike action is something it hopes to avoid.

Gatland went on to call the WRPA an "incredibly weak" organisation, but added: "I'm in complete support of the players in terms of the WRPA, which to me in my time here has been incredibly weak as an organisation, and I've stressed on a number of occasions to the players that they need to be stronger, they need to have more voices, they need to be around the table from a consultation point of view.

"From that regard, I think it's a huge positive for the players and that relationship with the union going forward because they need to be part of all the discussions that take place.

"I'm sure the players, like us, would like things resolved hopefully as quickly as possible."

In a previous statement, the WRU explained: "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.

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