The Welsh Rugby Players’ Association say that “players have had enough” amid
the ongoing uncertainty caused by Welsh rugby’s professional contracts freeze; strike action remains a possibility ahead of Wales’ clash with England in the Six Nations on February 25
Last Updated: 16/02/23 1:07pm
Members of Wales’ Six Nations squad made a pre-planned walkout at an event hosted by the Welsh Rugby Union on Wednesday as part of ongoing disputes over playing contracts.
Strike action by players is a possibility as the Wales squad continues preparations to face Six Nations opponents England in Cardiff on February 25, amid uncertainty caused by Welsh rugby’s professional contracts freeze.
Wales’ squad was required to attend a function at the Parkgate Hotel in Cardiff, next door to the Principality Stadium, where players were present for opening speeches and presentations before leaving ahead of food and talking with sponsor invited by the WRU.
It’s understood the players considered their action a form of “work to rule”, as they contemplate whether to take strike action, with the decision coming after acting WRU chief executive Nigel Walker met with senior members of the squad “to further clarify the current position”.
The WRU had already issued a statement to warn that pay cuts were coming for Welsh players and that there would be “no room for manoeuvre” in any negotiations, following on from Welsh players having taken pay cuts of 20 per cent on their current contracts in the Covid lockdowns.
The Welsh Rugby Players’ Association (WRPA) say that “players have had enough” of the uncertainty, with the situation magnified due to recruitment being on hold and next season’s playing budgets not yet being finalised for Wales’ four professional regions: Cardiff, Ospreys, Dragons and Scarlets.
A new financial agreement between the regions and the Welsh Rugby Union is yet to be confirmed in writing, sparking concern that a sizeable number of players whose contracts expire at the end of this season will head away from Wales.
“What is deeply concerning is that until the long-form agreement is signed and active, no players’ futures are guaranteed,” the WRPA said in a statement.
“This is having a profound effect on players – especially those out of contract – and is placing unacceptable strain on mental health and overall wellbeing.
“Strike action is something that we wish to see avoided as a players’ union and our members want to be taking the field as they always have.
“But clearly, the anxiety caused by the situation is now affecting the lives and profession of players. Players have had enough. This is not a game of ‘Championship Manager’.”
What could happen next?
Negotiations on the future of the professional game in Wales are handled by the Professional Rugby Board (PRB), with their chair Malcolm Wall saying in a statement: “The new agreement offers a complete funding package to the professional game in Wales, but it does come with financial limitations which will directly affect salary negotiations.
“The cold facts are that the WRU and clubs have been paying salaries that their businesses cannot afford, so the new agreement establishes a new framework for contract negotiations.
“The average salary of a Welsh professional rugby player under the new framework will be around £100k-per-year.”
The WRPA, though, criticised the publishing of the statement, which was released while the Wales squad trained at their Vale of Glamorgan base.
“The WRPA is extremely disappointed at the publishing of a statement by PRB and the way it portrays the players within Wales and ongoing WRPA relations with the PRB,” the players’ organisation added.
“Players feel let down, that once again they are the ones that are being leveraged. A point raised in the PRB statement mentions that ‘clubs have been paying salaries that their businesses cannot afford’.
“Players and agents have negotiated contracts within the parameters directed by the PRB and its previous incarnations. Once again, the players are expected to clean up someone else’s mess.
“In the meeting with Nigel Walker, the players haven’t asked for anything unreasonable, nor an increase to the funding model. We understand that negotiations are complex, but this particular issue has been ongoing for a prolonged period of time with deadlines set and missed, promises made and broken.”