England’s next Six Nations match has been thrown into doubt after it emerged that Wales players were considering going on strike over the renewal of their contracts.
Steve Borthwick’s side travel to Cardiff next Saturday for their third Six Nations match, but with the Welsh players taking anti-depressants and missing out on mortgage offers due to the dispute, the third round tie looks to be under threat .
The Welsh Rugby Union, which is in the midst of one of the most turbulent periods in its history, is in talks over a new budget arrangement with the country’s four regions, but an agreement is yet to be reached. That has left a large number of players uncertain about their immediate futures, unable to sign new deals with the World Cup looming – and in the middle of a testing Six Nations period for Warren Gatland’s side.
It is understood a meeting will take place this week between Welsh Rugby Union officials and players – including members of Gatland’s current Six Nations squad – to discuss strike action.
A player who featured in both Wales games in the Six Nations told the Daily Mail: “I can’t believe I’m five months from the end of my contract and eight months from the World Cup and my future is gone. It’s not certain yet.”
“I can’t afford a mortgage and I’m on anti-depressants. I’ve also got one major injury that means I’m out of a job in July but I’m starting in Wales every week and the WRU are making thousands from internationals. Games.”
Writing on Twitter, Wales internationals Willis Halaholo and Sam Cross expressed their dismay at the situation. “Must be nice to know you can still provide for your kids in about four months…,” wrote center Halaholo, who has a five-hour limit. “Simply speaking for the regular players of the clubs who have the most uncertainty. Not everyone knows but I feel the anxiety in the dressing room talking to the boys after training.”
Cross’s frustration centers on alleged fixed variable contracts that have been part of the negotiations – which are reportedly nowhere near an agreement – between the WRU and the four regions: Ospreys, Scarlets, Dragons and Cardiff. Players would be banded into pay tiers, with the majority earning between £30,000 and £100,000 a year which could be topped up with bonuses.
It was reported that the Welsh players were only informed of the proposals on January 23, two weeks before the Six Nations opener with Ireland.
A leading figure in the Welsh regional game told the Mail: “The uncertainty of not knowing whether they have a job for next season is affecting all Welsh players, not just the national squad.
“They have had enough. Everything is on the table, including possible strike action.”
The news comes at a time of successive crises at the WRU. At the end of January, Steve Phillips stepped down as chief executive with Nigel Walker in interim charge. The changes came after a week in which the WRU had to answer questions about a toxic, misogynistic culture within its organisation. The Chairman and Wales legend, Ieuan Evans, remains in the job and has promised an external investigation into the claims.
A week after those claims came to light in a BBC investigation, Telegraph Sport revealed how the WRU had banned ‘Delilah’ from being sung by choirs at international matches at the Principality Stadium ahead of the Six Nations .
Telegraph Sport has contacted the WRU for comment.