Warren Gatland admitted the lure of the Wales jersey isn’t what it was and that his past successes ‘papered over the cracks’ of the country’s rugby problems.
Head coach Gatland showed tangible signs of the effects a remarkable week has had on him and his team. He seemed a touch jaded but, as ever, chose his words carefully and seemed to hit out at his own players for their strike threat which put the England game in doubt.
Gatland’s side will face their bitter rivals on Saturday, but the match was in doubt up until Wednesday evening with the Wales squad considering striking unless their contractual demands were met. In the end, a compromise was reached after a remarkable few days.
‘It’s been a challenge. There is no doubt about that,’ said Gatland after naming rookie Cardiff centre Mason Grady for a Test debut against England and dropping Liam Williams and George North.
Gatland has ripped up his side, making a total of nine changes from the team which was beaten by Scotland. His pre-England comments were as fascinating as his selection for the Cardiff clash.
Wales coach Warren Gatland seemed a touch jaded when he announced a much-changed side
Mason Grady will make his first start for the side at centre against England on Saturday
‘When players are having meetings and it’s only them involved, you’re not quite sure of their demands. I support the players in terms of the action that was taken,’ Gatland said.
‘I suppose young men are sometimes a little bit impulsive. There could probably have been a period where they could have laid down their demands. It came pretty quickly and there was a lot of pressure put on the Union and the regions to get things resolved because they’d finally decided they’d had enough.
‘Maybe there could have been a little bit more warning but that’s the way it is and they made those calls. I think at the end of it they’re pretty happy with the outcome.’
Wales’ players wanted the abolishment of the country’s controversial 60-cap rule, a representative on Wales’ Professional Rugby Board, and the removal of the fixed variable element of proposed contracts if they were not to strike. After a crisis meeting with the Welsh Rugby Union, a compromise was reached meaning the England game will go ahead as planned.
A poignant Gatland opened up on his belief that his first, trophy-laden spell in charge of Wales had distracted the country’s rugby bosses from the problems beneath the surface.
Those problems came to a head with the player strike threat amid contractual chaos and budgetary uncertainty.
‘Now I look back on the first period I was here, a lot of these issues were going on but the fact we had been reasonably successful probably papered over the cracks a little bit,’ said Gatland, who has suffered defeats by Ireland and Scotland in his first two games back in charge.
‘It was stopping the dam from bursting. The dam has burst now. It’s burst because the regions feel they are underfunded. As a national side we’re not being successful. The desire to play for Wales and be in Wales potentially isn’t as strong as it was. Winning often hides away the issues that are going on behind the scenes.
‘Maybe there were people disgruntled in the past, but now it’s been highlighted by the fact there are maybe a number of players who are thinking if they want to play their rugby in Wales. With us as a national side not going well in the first couple of games, they’re probably looking at other opportunities overseas.’
With the 60-cap rule – which restricted players from playing domestic rugby outside of Wales and also playing at Test level unless they had that number of caps – dropping to 25 with immediate effect as a result of the player demands, some are likely to move abroad.
That is for the future but now, Wales must somehow try to focus on the present. Gatland has made big calls in leaving out Liam Williams and North and dropping fly-half Dan Biggar to the bench. Owen Williams steps in for Biggar. Grady and Joe Hawkins, both 20, form a young midfield and Louis Rees-Zammit is fit again.
Dan Biggar will start on the bench against England in Saturday’s crunch Six Nations clash
Wales’ players were furious at being put under pressure to withdraw their strike threat
WALES SIDE TO FACE ENGLAND
Backs: Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, Mason Grady, Joe Hawkins, Josh Adams; Owen Williams; Tomos Williams
Forwards: Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (capt), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Christ Tshiunza, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Nick Tompkins
In the pack, Gatland has gone for experience and back come Tomas Francis, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. The Principality roof will be open at England’s request.
‘For both of us, this game is absolutely massive,’ Gatland said.
The key question from a Welsh perspective is how the off-field chaos will affect them once the game begins.
Gatland cancelled naming his team on Tuesday as planned while the match was in doubt and revealed his players had asked him to do so.
The changing of the 60-cap rule to 25 is set to have a big impact on Gatland and Welsh rugby in the months and years to come, but that will have to wait.
‘There’s a lot of work for us to do to get to the levels I know we can get to. We’re not at those levels yet,’ said Gatland.
‘There is potentially a little more pain to go through, but I’m confident we will come through the other side.’
After a week of untold angst and chaos as the strike threat overwhelmed the build-up to the England game, everyone connected to Welsh rugby could do with the exact opposite of more pain.
It is now up to Gatland and his players to try and provide a ray of light.
Source of data and images: dailymail
The post Wales coach Warren Gatland rebukes team over strike threat first appeared on Elrisala.
Warren Gatland admitted the lure of the Wales jersey isn’t what it was and that his past successes ‘papered over the cracks’ of the country’s rugby problems. Head coach Gatland showed tangible signs of the effects a remarkable week has had on him and his team. He seemed a touch jaded but, as ever, chose …
The post Wales coach Warren Gatland rebukes team over strike threat first appeared on Elrisala. Sports – Elrisala