Six Nations 2023: Wales head coach Warren Gatland confident game will take place in England

Venue: Princes Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday February 25th Begin: 16:45 GMT
Cover: Live on BBC One, S4C, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru and Radio 5 Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website & app; Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app. Highlights and Analysis, Scrum V Six Nations, BBC Two Wales, Sunday 26th February

Head coach Warren Gatland says he remains confident Wales’ Six Nations game against England will go ahead next Saturday.

This is despite a possible strike by Welsh players, which Alun Wyn Jones says is a real threat but is the “last resort”.

The players are at odds with the Welsh rugby bosses over contracts, with a deadline set for Wednesday to resolve the issues.

“I expect the game to be played,” said Gatland.

“I’ve seen things like this happen in the past and I’m confident the game will continue.

“The lads have been great in training. I just have to put all those things aside and make sure we focus on the game.”

Should the game not take place in England, Welsh rugby would lose almost £10million in revenue from the game.

Gatland says he supports the Welsh players in their longstanding disagreement but would not support a strike for the England game.

The contract chaos is affecting scores of players – estimates range from 70 to 100 – whose current contracts expire at the end of this season and have yet to receive any offers from their regional teams.

A new six-year financial agreement between Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the four regions of Wales – Dragons, Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets – has yet to be signed after months of discussions and the clock is ticking.

The regions are set for financial cuts, but game budgets have not yet been set for next season, so no contracts can officially be offered.

Malcolm Wall, chairman of the Professional Rugby Board (PRB), which negotiates the future of Welsh professional play, said this week: “The cold facts are that the WRU and clubs have been paying salaries their companies cannot afford. There is no room for maneuver when it comes to the budget available for player contracts.”

WRU acting chief executive Nigel Walker met members of the Wales squad this week and talks with the Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) continue.

“It’s been a challenging couple of weeks,” added Gatland.

“Sometimes that focuses the mind and gives you the determination to focus on the job.

“This prepares the team as well as possible for the next week.

“There is no doubt that people must be under pressure in relation to the future and what is happening in the regions.

“They weren’t able to offer contracts and the uncertainty about the agreement and everything that was created.

“That puts a strain on many of those involved. Not just the players, but also the union and regional stakeholders.”

“Lock Them In A Room To Fix Things”

Gatland says problems are solved faster in his native New Zealand.

“Coming from a country where you’re in a little crisis, you put everyone in one room and it’s sorted out within 24 hours,” Gatland added.

“New Zealand’s strength has always been its ability to change rapidly.

“I don’t know why you can’t just lock yourself in a room for 48 or 72 hours and come out with a solution.

“Everyone has to make compromises. You have successful, intelligent business people who come in and need to find a solution quickly.

“I don’t know why things have taken so long, but we are seeing the result now because the negotiations are going on too long.

“Perhaps the hamstring of Welsh rugby is that change is like a tourist train trying to go somewhere. Making change in Wales takes time.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland talks to Alun Wyn Jones in training
Wales head coach Warren Gatland talks to Alun Wyn Jones in training

The WRU has been in crisis in recent weeks when a sexism scandal was uncovered by a BBC Wales investigative programme, leading to the resignation of chief executive Steve Phillips and an independent task force looking into the organisation’s culture.

“Many have criticized the union for leadership but they have been to the clubs before asking for recommendations and changes and they have not pushed through,” Gatland added.

“Everyone in the game has to take responsibility, not just the union, which has had a kick in the past few weeks.

“We must give up our narrow-mindedness and our self-interest. I’ve always been a big proponent of that. Let’s make the best decisions for the game.

“Sometimes that means decisions that affect us and we don’t get the deals we want. You have to accept that because hopefully it’s the best decision for the game.

“If that means it’s not in the best interest of the national team but it’s in the best interest of Wales, then we should be doing things like that.”

“60 cap rule not practical”

It is understood that players want three important things by Wednesday. A seat at PRB meetings, the abolition of the controversial 60 cap selection rule in Wales and a rethink of the contracts on offer due to the fixed and variable elements making up 20% of salaries.

The 60-cap rule applies to a player who practices his profession outside the country and cannot be selected unless he has completed at least that number of Test appearances.

Gatland has questioned whether the policy remains fit for purpose following its introduction in 2017, when he first served as head coach.

“It was fit for purpose when it was introduced,” Gatland added.

“Ironically, it was called Gatland’s Law. My argument back then was to look at Australia, where there are 30 games, and I thought that was reasonable.

“The regions wanted 70, we ended up with 60, but I’m not sure it’s practical at the moment. So in the current situation there is an opportunity to potentially get rid of it.”

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