Wales head coach Warren Gatland

Wales head coach Warren Gatland, Scotland v Wales - Guinness Six Nations. Pic: Getty Images.

Stick Or Twist? Wales Players Mull Over Next Move In £10m Poker Game

By Paul Jones

Angry Wales players will decide on Wednesday whether to intensify their £10m poker game with their bosses and call a strike before next week’s Six Nations clash against England.

But Wales coach Warren Gatland insists he is confident the players can be convinced to keep their boots on.

The New Zealander reckons a deal can be struck between his squad and the Welsh Rugby Union to avert a disastrous no-show at the Principality Stadium that would cost the Union around £10m.

The players want proposals to replace part of their wages with bonuses thrown out, a proper negotiation over plans to slash their salaries by up to 50 per cent, and the scrapping of the 60-cap rule than bans players from Test rugby if they leave Wales and have fewer than 60 appearances.

Of the those, the idea of replacing an element of salary with play-to-pay bonuses remains a major divide between the two sides.

Gatland – whose team suffered back-to-back tournament hammerings from Ireland and Scotland – said: “I expect the game’s going to be played.

“I’ve seen these sorts of things happen in the past and I’m confident the game will go ahead.

“I come from a country where if you’re in a bit of a crisis, you get everyone in a room and you sort it out within 24 hours.

“The strength of New Zealand Rugby has always been the ability to change and change incredibly quickly. Probably the hamstring of Welsh rugby is that change is like a slow train trying to go
somewhere.”

The WRU and the four Welsh regions have failed to sign off budgets for next season, which has left at least 70 players in the dark over how much they will earn.

All they have seen is a blunt statement from their bosses saying there are take-it-or-leave offers on the way, with no room for any negotiation.

To pour more petrol on the flames, Professional Rugby Board chief Malcolm Wall claimed the players have been paid too much for years.

Wall claimed the average salary for a Welsh professional rugby player under the new plan would be £100,000-a-year – but that would be a huge drop for many and it will come with strings attached, like number of games played.

Gatland has been caught in the middle trying to back his players’ stance, but convince them a strike would leave them with even less cash in the pot.

But the players know the threat to the England game is the one big stick they can wield – the most lucrative day in the Welsh rugby calendar.

Gatland added: “Before Covid, I felt we were going to see players on regular salaries of a million-plus. “The Covid situation has curtailed all of that sort of stuff and there’s kind of been a re-set from everybody.

“The reality in Wales is that, going forward, the expectation of players’ salaries is probably going to be 30% less than they’re currently on.”

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