Warren Gatland says ‘he knew nothing about depth of chaos in Wales rugby’
Warren Gatland has claimed he knew nothing about the depths of dysfunction plaguing Welsh rugby politics when he agreed to return for his second spell as head coach.
On a dramatic day at the Vale, Wales’ team base in Glamorgan, Gatland described how he had only learned of the breakdown in his players’ relationship with the national governing body last week.
Delaying his team announcement, a decision designed to allow further time to avert the nuclear option of calling off Saturday’s home match against England due to strike action, he said: “I wasn’t aware of any of the issues that were taking place. It was probably last week when I learned about this. Everyone needs to take responsibility.
“I think players had been given assurances that things would be sorted out, but unfortunately they haven’t been. It finally came to a head.
“We’re all asking for things to get sorted. I wasn’t aware of any of the issues. I wish I had known a few things that were going on here. You just take it on the chin.”
Asked if he had any regrets about returning from his native New Zealand in December to this diplomatic maelstrom, he replied, with a wry grin: “No, it has been a bit of a whirlwind and it has been challenging. I hope there will be a resolution.”
If two emphatic Six Nations defeats to Ireland and Scotland had not already brought home the difficulty of making Wales true World Cup contenders in just seven months, the poisonous off-field machinations surely have.
Before his players agree to take to the pitch at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, they are asking for union representation at meetings of the Professional Rugby Board, a scrapping of WRU demands that they accept 20 per cent of their pay in bonuses, and the removal of the hugely controversial rule whereby somebody playing his trade outside the country cannot be picked for the country unless he has earned 60 caps.
Pressed on whether he felt professional rugby, already grappling with the concussion debate and huge financial problems, was tipping towards a crisis point, Gatland said: “With Wales, it’s a bit different to everywhere else. The pandemic has had a significant impact. We’re well aware of people overspending. It’s about keeping within our means. The players are aware that there needs to be a reduction in salaries.”
But he disputed the notion that rushing through changes could bring serious long-term repercussions for the sport in Wales.
“What the players are asking for is reasonable,” Gatland argued. “You have to find some middle ground. I hope the discussions find something that everyone is happy with. It’s not always one side winning. It’s about finding some compromise.”
What happens next?
Could the game be rescheduled? Hypothetically, yes. Next weekend is free from Six Nations fixtures and there have been quick turnarounds following postponements before. As recently as 2021, Scotland’s visit to France, scheduled for round three on February 28, had to be replayed because of a number of Covid cases among Fabien Galthié’s squad. It was tacked onto the end of the tournament – six days after Super Saturday – and took place on March 26. But the 2021 tournament was played behind closed doors. Large crowds provide logistical challenges, aside from other thorny issues such as question of player release from club action. What about tickets and refunds or reallocations? This would be a matter for the Welsh Rugby Union but the uncertainty over another date makes reallocation tricky. Refunds would be part of the walloping financial hit that a strike would bring. What are the Six Nations doing about it? The organising body is proactively working through scenarios and have been doing so since this threat was raised. at the beginning of last week. There are a number of commercial relationships as well as centrally-agreed contracts between tournament stakeholders that would be at risk.
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