Wales players are considering the prospect of unprecedented strike action ahead of next weekend’s crunch clash with England as contractual chaos engulfs the country’s national game.
Sportsmail can reveal the extent of the latest crisis facing Welsh rugby – one which as things stands, has left the Six Nations game with their biggest rivals in doubt.
In the next week, all professional players in Wales – including those in national head coach Warren Gatland’s squad – will hold a crunch meeting where a possible strike will be discussed.
This season, the Welsh Rugby Union and the country’s four regions have been locked in talks over a new budgetary deal for upcoming campaigns, but no official agreement has yet been signed.
It has meant that huge numbers of players have not been able to put pen to paper on new contracts, leaving their futures uncertain during the Six Nations and with the World Cup on the horizon.
Wales coach Warren Gatland faces more turmoil with his players embroiled in contract dispute
The impact of that uncertainty has been huge, with one Wales player turning to antidepressants and another having a mortgage offer turned down because he is soon to be out of contract.
‘I can’t believe I’m five months away from the end of my contract and eight months away from the World Cup and my future isn’t certain yet,’ a Wales Six Nations squad member, who has featured in both his team’s games in 2023 so far, told Sportsmail.
‘I can’t apply for a mortgage and I’m on antidepressants. I’m also one big injury away from not having a job in July yet I’m starting for Wales every week and the WRU is making tens of millions from international matches.’
On Tuesday, Cardiff and Wales centre Uilisi Halaholo posted on Twitter: ‘Must be nice knowing you can still provide for your kids in about four months.
‘Especially when you get injured putting your body on the line for your club. Now you got less chance of trying to get a contract somewhere to provide for your family because of injury. Mental health is real. Stay strong.’
A prominent figure in the Welsh regional game said: ‘The uncertainty of not knowing if they have a job for next season is having a huge impact on all the players in Wales, not just the national squad.
‘They have had enough. Everything is on the table, including possible strike action.
‘I’ve never known it this bad. The WRU say they want to keep the country’s best players in Wales but they can’t under the budgets that are being discussed.’
Welsh rugby is no stranger to off-field chaos, but this season the WRU has had to deal with a string of allegations about a toxic culture of sexism at the governing body.
Sportsmail was the first to reveal the allegations made by former WRU employee Charlotte Wathan and her claims rocked the game. Last month, former WRU chief executive Steve Phillips resigned over the issue. The WRU has been working with the regions on a new financial package for the future, but with Nigel Walker now interim CEO, there is still huge uncertainty at the top of the Welsh game.
No agreement on budgets is imminent. The likely result is a mass exodus of players.
‘I’ve got a contract next year but I’ve had enough. I want to get out now,’ a Wales squad member said. ‘I’ve never seen it this bad. All the uncertainty isn’t worth it just to play for Wales.’
Another added: ‘I’m just glad I’m retiring in a few years. It’s a shambles – the lunatics are running the asylum.’
A Welsh Test player now based in England said: ‘I never want to come back and play in Wales. I’ve learnt so much where I am. I’m valued and I’m really enjoying my rugby. I feel so sorry for the boys in the Wales camp. They are constantly stressed discussing the contracting problem.
‘The WRU has blood on its hands if any of the boys get injured. They are saying the regions are too scared to say anything as the WRU might stop their payments and rip this deal up.
‘It’s the worst they’ve ever known it.’
Sportsmail has learned that as part of ongoing discussions, all players in Wales are being offered fixed variable contracts which would involve a basic annual payment and be topped up with bonuses. Under the proposals, players would be banded into five tiers with the majority earning sums of between £30,000 and £100,000-a-year.
All professional players in Wales will hold a crunch meeting in the next few days
The highest basic salary a player can earn would be £278,000. Bonuses and international appearance fees would be on top, but that is still far less than the circa £400,000-a-year deals currently enjoyed by Wales’ top players and is dwarfed by the money on offer in France and Japan and to a lesser extent, England.
It is understood that Wales’ players were only made aware of the fixed variable contract proposals on January 23 and on the eve of their Six Nations opener with Ireland. The Welsh Rugby Players’ Association explained the proposal to regional players last week.
While it would be easy to make the cheap joke that Wales’ stars have looked like they’ve been on strike for two weeks already after suffering Six Nations hammerings by Ireland and Scotland, the situation is no laughing matter. The emotional toll contractual uncertainty has had on the players in Welsh rugby is very real and cannot be underestimated.
Sportsmail understands the situation has been the talk of Wales’ Six Nations camp and has become a significant distraction.
It is also important to note the situation doesn’t just affect Gatland’s squad, but every player in the country and those hardest hit won’t be the country’s elite.
‘The middle-of-the-road guys are f*****,’ a source said. ‘The game can’t afford them.’
A regional player, who is yet to play international rugby, said: ‘I’ve never felt so stressed in my life.
‘My wife is really worried and so are my parents. I play for my region most weeks but I may have to sell my house and downsize. All the boys feel the same.
‘We are in complete limbo and don’t know if we will have jobs in July.’
We were also informed by one teary-eyed player that he has had to put his house up for sale and move back in with his parents because he can no longer afford the payments on his property.
WELSH RUGBY’S ISSUES IN NUMBERS
£20million: The amount loaned by the WRU from the Welsh Government and given to the four regions to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.
£5m: The amount each region has to repay, with an interest rate of 10 per cent per annum.
£200,000 – £400,000: The top salaries currently being earned by Wales’ top Test stars.
£700,000 – £1m: The top salaries currently being earned by England and France’s best players.
£278,000: The top basic salary able to be earned by a Welsh-based Test player under new proposals.
£30,000 – £100,000: The sums likely to be earned by Welsh regional players moving forward.
£4.5m: The rough annual playing budgets for each region in the future.
The current financial plight of Welsh rugby can be dated back to the pandemic, when the WRU took a £20million loan from the Welsh Government. The money was handed out to the regions and without it, they would not have survived. But each of Dragons, Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets have to repay their £5m share over 20 years with an annual interest of 10 per cent.
Moving forwards, it looks likely each region will be operating on an annual playing budget of circa £4.5m. The result will be smaller playing squads and wages and a likely inability to compete with Europe’s best sides, which is already the current status quo.
With Welsh regional senior squad numbers likely to drop to the mid-thirties from in the region of 50 currently and fixed variable contract top-ups set to include win and appearance fee bonuses, there are significant player welfare concerns about the new proposals.
‘The squads are going to be so small. We are really worried about welfare and also players playing when they are injured to try and ensure they get paid,’ a regional player said. ‘We’re struggling to win games now let alone when the budgets are reduced by another 30 per cent.
‘At any point you normally have 10 or so players out injured so it means academy players will have to be thrown in when they might not be ready and international players will have to return sooner than they would normally.’
Another said: ‘I’m being asked to play international rugby and beat world-class teams but at the same time I’m one injury away from not being able to pay my bills in July.
‘If there’s no money then the people at the top need to take cuts as well. Why is it always the players that are hit?’
Wales’ best players have already been targeted by richer clubs abroad as uncertainty reigns. Josh Adams has admirers at Lyon, while Liam Williams is of interest to Japanese teams.
Significant numbers of Gatland’s current squad, as well as those at the regions, are out of contract and it is understood Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Patchell are set to move on from the Scarlets because they can’t afford them. Injured lock Will Rowlands has already quit Welsh rugby for a lucrative move to Racing 92.
The list goes on and on.
The WRU’s controversial 60 cap rule means that only players with that number of appearances or more can play domestic rugby outside of Wales and also represent Gatland’s national side.
There is a growing feeling among Welsh-based players that rule will have to be abolished given the lack of options available to them in their homeland.
A reduced salary cap in England and tight rules on the number of non-French players in the TOP14 mean a move abroad isn’t as easy now as it once was. But large swathes of Welsh-based players are unsurprisingly still looking at moves elsewhere with no concrete offers on the table at home.
Sportsmail has also learned that under new agreement proposals, a region can be fined by the WRU if they let someone who is in Gatland’s 36-man player of national interest group move on. The WRU will now come under increasing pressure to resolve the player uncertainty.
Earlier this month, Malcom Wall – chairman of Welsh rugby’s professional rugby board – confirmed there had been verbal agreement over a new six-year budget deal.
‘Signing the heads of terms agreement has enabled our professional sides to begin contract negotiations with players on a conditional basis,’ Wall said.
‘Whilst delays in reaching agreement have been regrettable it has been vitally important to get the detail right in the best interests of the whole game in Wales.’
Welsh-based players are indeed able to discuss potential deals with their regions as things stand, but it is currently impossible for the parties to officially agree a contract and put pen to paper.
The possibility of the players striking and the England game being put in doubt would be unthinkable for the WRU given the millions of revenue they generate by holding a match at Principality Stadium.
Chairman Ieuan Evans held talks with WRPA chief executive Gareth Lewis last week
Chairman Ieuan Evans last week met with WRPA chief executive Gareth Lewis to discuss a possible agreement, but none has arrived as yet. There has been a significant kickback against the fixed variable contracts proposal from the players, who have seen their value reduced significantly.
It looks unlikely a resolution will be reached this month.
‘Even if they keep the 60 cap rule, I would leave tomorrow if they would let me. They need to get rid of that rule now,’ said one player. ‘The WRU had a turnover of £94.3m in 2022. Why can’t they reduce the cost base by 10 per cent and fund the regions adequately for the future?
‘They need to prioritise where they spend their money or there will be no game.’
Source of data and images: dailymail
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Wales players are considering the prospect of unprecedented strike action ahead of next weekend’s crunch clash with England as contractual chaos engulfs the country’s national game. Sportsmail can reveal the extent of the latest crisis facing Welsh rugby – one which as things stands, has left the Six Nations game with their biggest rivals in …
The post Hard-up Wales stars consider STRIKING over contract chaos, leaving clash with England in doubt first appeared on Elrisala. Sports – Elrisala