By Andrew Baldock, PA Rugby Union Correspondent
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 by players is a possibility as the Wales squad continue preparations to face England in Cardiff on Saturday week.
The situation has been magnified due to recruitment being on hold and next season’s playing budgets not yet being finalised for Wales’ four professional regions of Cardiff, Ospreys, Dragons and Scarlets.
A new financial agreement between the regions and the Welsh Rugby Union has still 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, with a huge sense of uncertainty currently engulfing them and their families.
“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’.”
Negotiations on the future of the professional game in Wales are handled by the Professional Rugby Board (PRB), which comprises representatives from each of the regions, acting WRU chief executive Nigel Walker, WRU finance director Tim Moss and two independent members, including chair Malcolm Wall.
Walker met with senior members of the Wales squad on Wednesday “to further clarify the current position”.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏴 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 15, 2023
The WRU then issued a statement, in which PRB chair Malcolm Wall 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 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.
“We urge all involved at PRB to prioritise fair agreement urgently and to acknowledge the position and wellbeing of the game’s main assets, which are its players. A satisfactory resolution must be found swiftly, so that all parties can move forward.”