Things seem to be going from bad to worse for Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

It started a month ago when the WRU was rocked by allegations of sexism and discrimination against the governing body - aired in an explosive BBC Wales program.

Then it was the sacking of coach Wayne Pivac and on to the disastrous start to the Guinness Six Nations which has seen Wales beaten comfortably by both Ireland (10-34) and Scotland (7-35).

Now, it’s chaos with contract negotiations leading to the threat of strike action from the players ahead of arguably the biggest game on the WRU calendar versus England in the Six Nations.  

So why are Wales rugby players threatening to strike?

A new six-year financial agreement between the WRU and Wales’ four professional regions – Dragons, Cardiff, Ospreys and Scarlets – has not yet been signed off in writing after months of discussion.

WRU interim CEO Nigel Walker met with senior members of the Wales squad Wednesday to further clarify the current position.

South Wales Argus: Wales players are threatening to strike ahead of their Six Nations clash against England.Wales players are threatening to strike ahead of their Six Nations clash against England. (Image: PA)

Following that meeting, the WRU issued a statement in which Walker said: “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 regions are braced for financial cuts, but no playing budgets have been finalised for next season, so no contracts can be offered.

This leaves an estimated 70 to 100 players, whose current deals expire at the end of this season and who have not yet received offers from their regional teams.

According to certain players, including Wales’ most capped player, Alun Wyn Jones, this uncertainty is causing stress amongst the players.

Wyn Jones said: “It has come to a point where people are being affected, there is potential to affect families.

“This was supposed to be sorted a long time ago.

“Even if players who had the opportunity, or might have had the opportunity, to go somewhere else might not get that now because other teams are filling their rosters.”

According to the Press Association, it is understood the players want three main things:

  • A place at Professional Rugby Board meetings.
  • Removing the contentious 60-cap selection rule in Wales whereby a player plying his trade outside the country cannot be picked for international duties unless he has made at least that number of Test appearances.
  • To re-access contracts that have fixed-variable elements accounting for 20% of salaries.

Will the Wales Rugby players take strike action?

There is a very real possibility the Welsh players could take strike action ahead of their Six Nations clash with England.

Wyn Jones said it would be a last resort, but said the players had been pushed to their limits.

In a press conference this week, he said: “I suppose it is (taking strike action is a possibility), it would be hard to deny. But it’s the very last option.

“I think, ultimately, if you treat people badly for long enough, you get to where we find ourselves.

“We realise what we do and how fortunate we are to do it.

“But if this was any other line of work, or any other industry, for this period of time, with this amount of uncertainty, you’d get the same reaction.

“It comes to a point now where the game in Wales has to make a decision about which direction it’s going to go.

“Every player wants to play the game, selected or not, when I’m not involved, I still feel like I’m paying and I want to get back to the job.

“But also I think to protect the game and ensure the game goes well, for generations to come, we need to sort this out now.

“We can’t go back into the cycle of uncertainty because it’s not healthy.”

Former Wales and British and Irish Lions captain, Sam Warburton also weighed into the debate during the week.

In an article in The Times, Warburton said he backed the players and their threat to strike.

He said: “I know from speaking to some of them this week that this issue has been really bugging the Wales players, and the feeling is so strong that the threat to strike is very real.

“They feel like they are, for want of a better expression, being shafted.

“So, I totally support the players and their threat to strike should some sensible agreement not be reached.

“If I was still playing, I would not sign these new contracts.”

What does the coach think?

Wales head coach Warren Gatland said he would not support his players if they decided to take strike action ahead of their Six Nations match against England next weekend.

South Wales Argus: Wales head coach Warren Gatland would not support his players decision to take strike action.Wales head coach Warren Gatland would not support his players decision to take strike action.

Gatland said he understood the stance his players were taking but strike action wasn’t the answer.

He said: “I completely support the stance that they’re taking in terms of wanting to get some resolution of the issues that they have, but I think there’s a lot more involved, a lot of things at stake in terms of ensuring that that fixture does take place.

“I’m sure the players, like us, would like things resolved hopefully as quickly as possible.

“I’m supportive of the players and the things that they’re trying to do, and my role is just to prepare the team for next week.”

Gatland insisted the situation had not affected the way his players had been training.

He said: “The players have been great in the last few days in terms of the way they’ve [trained].

“They’ve got a side issue or a separate issue that they want sorting, but when it’s come to the rugby in terms of preparing for the game, they’ve been fantastic in the way that they’ve prepared in the last few days.”