Gatland will not support Welsh players' strike ahead of England clash
REACTION: Wales head coach Warren Gatland would not support his players if they decided to strike ahead of their Six Nations clash with England.
Strike action is a possibility due to ongoing uncertainty caused by Welsh rugby’s professional contracts freeze.
On Thursday the Welsh Rugby Players’ Association (WRPA) said the delay was causing “unacceptable strain on mental health and overall wellbeing”.
A new financial agreement between the four Welsh regions and the Welsh Rugby Union has still to be confirmed in writing.
That has sparked concern that a sizeable number of players whose contracts expire at the end of this season will head away from Wales due to the huge sense of uncertainty over their futures.
When asked if he would support a player strike, Gatland said: “No.”
The New Zealander added: “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.”
Wales are due to host England in Cardiff on February 25.
Strike the ‘last option’
Former captain Alun Wyn Jones said a strike was the “last option” available to players frustrated by their treatment over a long period of time.
“It’s hard to deny, but it’s the very last option,” said Wyn Jones, the most capped international player of all time, about the possibility of a strike.
“There are people who are really impassioned. Ultimately, if you treat people badly for long enough, you get to where we find ourselves.
“We realise what we do and how fortunate we are to do it, but if this was any other line of work or any other industry for this period of time with this amount of uncertainty, you’d get the same reaction.
Gatland is in his second stint in charge of Wales after a hugely successful spell between 2007 and 2019.
But his return has so far failed to halt a poor run of results with heavy defeats to Ireland and Scotland to open the Six Nations.
“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,” said Gatland.
“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.”
Reports of a strike threat come at a time of turmoil for Welsh rugby both on and off the field.
Last month, then-WRU chief executive Steve Phillips resigned after a BBC documentary made allegations of sexism at the governing body.