Threatened player strike assuaged, Wales will now focus on a first win in this season’s Six Nations when they take on England in Cardiff on Saturday.
A dispute over player contracts reached a head this week, with Welsh players threatening a strike over contractual issues.
But compromises were reached and the game at Principality Stadium will go ahead as planned.
Wales coach Warren Gatland, who made nine changes to the team that lost 35-7 to Scotland in their last outing, admitted that the dispute had been “a challenge, there is no doubt about that”.
“I support the players in terms of the action that was taken,” he said.
“Maybe there could have been a little bit more warning but that’s the way it is and they made those calls.”
As of Saturday, professional players in Wales now know that playing overseas is an option should you have 25 rather than 60 caps.
Player representation at Professional Rugby Board (PRB) meetings is also guaranteed while there has been a move on contract to include solely fixed ones alongside fixed-variable hybrid contracts (80% in set wages, with 20% as bonus payments).
The players, Gatland said, “are pretty happy with the outcome and what’s going to happen moving forwards”.
Gatland admitted that Wales having been succesful in his first tenure as head coach between 2007-19, when he oversaw four Six Nations titles including three Grand Slams and two Rugby World Cup semi-final appearances, in 2011 and 2019, had “probably papered over the cracks a little bit”.
“It was stopping the dam from busting. The dam has burst now. It’s burst because the regions feel they are underfunded and haven’t got the success the players want,” he explained.
“As a national side we’re not being successful. The desire to play for Wales and be in Wales potentially isn’t as strong as it was.
“Winning and success often hides away some of the issues that are going on behind the scenes.”
Exactly what we need
England coach Steve Borthwick, who has seen his side lose 29-23 to Scotland before rebounding to a 31-14 victory over Italy, said he and all his players sympathised with the Wales players.
“Nobody should have to go through the level of uncertainty they have had,” he said, highlighting the fact that the situation in England needed a rehaul after both Wasps and Worcester went into administration this season and no longer play in the English Premiership.
“With that in mind, I think this game is exactly what we need. We want these big exciting games that are full of passion that allow us to concentrate on the rugby.”
A fierce competitor, Gatland didn’t mince his words about what he wanted on Saturday.
“We owe it to ourselves to give a performance,” he said after two defeats by Ireland (34-10) and Scotland (35-7).
“I spent the first couple of games trying to get a real handle on where we were as a squad. I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for that at the moment. There is a lot of work for us to continue to do. There are a lot of things we need to fix ourselves rather than looking at our opposition.”
Top of the list were cutting back on a crushing penalty count, with Wales having given away a total of 35 penalties against the Irish and Scots, and limiting England’s set-piece opportunities.
Also an issue was players finding the intensity Gatland’s Wales teams of the past had achieved. “They’re not far away, but they’re not quite as good as they were in the past,” he said.
“Fingers crossed, when the magnitude of the game — what this fixture means and the history — hits they will be up for it on Saturday.”
Borthwick added: “We need to make sure we have the right game plan and deliver it on Saturday.
“It’s an experienced team,” Borthwick said of Wales. “I’m sure they are fully focused on the game now, as we are.
World Cup News
/ 3 months ago
FIFA on Saturday confirmed that three bids to host the Women’s World Cup in...
/ 3 months ago
A set of six jerseys that Lionel Messi wore during Argentina’s victorious 2022 World...