Warren Gatland’s Wales Six Nations squad had the day off in Nice on Wednesday and the chance to visit luxury Cote d’Azur locations like Monaco and Saint-Tropez.
While the stunning coastal scenery of the French Riviera might paint a picture that all is well for Welsh players, that is still very much not the case.
There remains significant anger among Gatland’s squad in the south of France and also Welsh-based players back at home at the ongoing contractual uncertainty being felt by the country’s rugby professionals. They are far, far from happy.
Three weeks after a threat by Wales’ players to strike ahead of their Six Nations game with England was called off at the 11th hour, there is still significant concern about what the future holds.
When the strike was avoided and a compromise reached between the players and their bosses, Welsh Rugby Union interim chief executive Nigel Walker promised contracts would immediately be offered.
Wales stars are still unhappy over the contract uncertainty facing players in the country
On the day of the England match, he then said he would hold the feet of Wales’ four regions ‘to the fire’ if they did not start to sign players to fresh deals.
Nearly a month on, out-of-contract players in Wales still cannot officially put pen to paper on a new one because a budgetary agreement between the WRU and the regions has not yet been signed.
‘I just feel the WRU are so out of touch with the players,’ a Welsh regional player told Sportsmail. ‘Things were supposed to be sorted weeks ago. It’s the middle of March now and boys who are out of contract at the end of the season only have three or four pay cheques left.
‘They have still not put pen to paper or had a firm contract on the table. It’s a shambles.’
Welsh rugby’s Professional Rugby Board and its subdivision the Rugby Management Board held crunch meetings this week to try and resolve the issue as they are well aware of the player unrest. Regional heads of recruitment were also present. It is hoped there will soon be a resolution. There needs to be.
Documentation sent to Welsh players following the meeting and seen by Sportsmail reads: ‘We are hopeful legally binding contracts will finally be available to sign.’
Warren Gatland’s men are in the south of France and have been enjoying visiting luxury locations – but all is not well among the squad
PRB sources have also indicated that will soon be the case. Welsh players have been able to agree conditional offers, but the delay in being able to officially sign has been down to the failure of the WRU and the four regions – Dragons, Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets – to come to an agreement on a new, six-year funding agreement.
The regions have been unwilling to sign because under the proposals on the table, their annual budgets from the governing body would not allow them to be competitive.
There are also serious concerns over squad numbers and player welfare. The regions continue to negotiate with the WRU for more funding.In the meantime, Gatland’s players have had to carry on their Six Nations duties while running the risk of injury and knowing they could be left unemployed in a matter of months.
Sportsmail revealed prop Dillon Lewis is set to sign for Harlequins and understands that Wales hooker Scott Baldwin is one player who is out of contract at the end of the season. Baldwin suffered a pectoral injury in the win over Italy.
Scrum-half Rhys Webb, who has interest from Japan, is another in the same contractual position. After his man-of-the-match display in Rome, Webb posted ‘#anyjobs’ on social media. The message was clear.
Nearly a month after players nearly went on strike over their contract situation, out of contract stars are still unable to officially sign new deals
‘It (regional future) is at the back of my mind at the moment,’ Webb admitted after his impressive performance at Stadio Olimpico. ‘There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment.’
When Wales’ players called off the strike, they did so because three main compromises were reached with the WRU. They were:
- The dropping of Welsh rugby’s controversial 60 cap rule – which had restricted players from playing domestic rugby outside of Wales and also featuring at international level unless they had that number of Test appearances – to 25 with immediate effect
- The removal of the variable element of contracts for Welsh-based players – which did account for 20 per cent of salaries under proposals
- The guarantee of player representation on the PRB through Gareth Lewis, the chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Players’ Association
Amid the ongoing negotiations between the players and the WRU, there remains work to do on the contract element which is still not finalised.
For example, the possible European win bonuses a player could earn under the proposals are the same regardless of whether they are competing in the Champions or Challenge Cup.
There is frustration among the players there seems to be no incentive to get into European rugby’s top tier as win bonuses would be easier to achieve in the lower grade competition.
While Wales prepare for their clash against France, players back home are in limbo, with large numbers only given conditional offers on vastly reduced salaries
While Wales finalise their preparations for their last Six Nations game with France in Paris on Saturday, the regional players at home remain the ones impacted worst by the current limbo.
Large numbers have been offered conditional offers on vastly reduced salaries. There is a consensus among Welsh rugby’s powerbrokers that the game needs to cut its cloth in regard to player wages. That is right as some of the numbers earned by middle-of-the-road players are unaffordable.
The players themselves are aware wage reductions are a necessity. But the fact some of them have been offered £30,000-a-year deals has been considered insulting at a time when it has never been more dangerous to be a player amid the spectre of the impact of concussion.
Cardiff and Wales centre Uilisi Halaholo, who is out of contract and has suffered a serious Achilles injury, has made it clear his contract proposal won’t be enough to feed his family.
It is understood that unlike Wales’ Six Nations squad last month, players at the regions aren’t considering strike action although it is clear many have had enough of their current careers.
‘I know a lot of players are looking outside of Wales and some even at other jobs as they have had a gutsful of rugby,’ one player said. The wait and worry for them continues although there is a hope it will soon end.
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