Six Nations: 'Few people realise how close we came to disaster' – Wales coach Gatland keen to move on from contract dispute

By Sports Desk February 24, 2023

Warren Gatland is keen to "draw a line in the sand" ahead of Wales' Six Nations clash with England, saying the threat of strike action had taken the team "to the brink of disaster" this week.

Saturday's fixture at the Principality Stadium was in serious doubt as Wales players considered making themselves unavailable amid a dispute with the Professional Rugby Board (PRB) and Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). 

On Wednesday, however, PRB chair Malcolm Wall confirmed an agreement had been reached with the Welsh Rugby Players' Association on several key issues, including wages and changes to the 60-cap rule that governed international selection.

Wales coach Gatland was forced to delay naming his team due to the uncertainty, and he says the effects of Saturday's game not taking place would have been dire. 

"Looking back now, few people realise just how close we came to the brink of disaster," Gatland wrote in a column for The Telegraph. "What took me by absolute surprise was the level of frustration and anger that boiled over from the players on Monday morning.

"Learning the extent of their frustration was one of the hardest things I had to deal with. I have always prided myself on putting the demands of the players first.

"I was caught in the middle. You want to support the players as much as possible, but you've got to be very careful about how much of the line you cross from that perspective.

"I'm not sure that they had thought about the potential consequences or the long-term effects of the game not going ahead. It would have had such an impact on all rugby in Wales, and potentially led to one or two of the regions going under.

"What hurt me most was hearing a couple of emotive comments from players, second hand, that I didn't care about them. That was the hardest thing because I have always been about putting the players first and looking after them. I just think it was the emotions of the time."

Gatland was eventually able to name his team on Thursday, as Wales look to respond to defeats against Ireland and Scotland in their first two Six Nations contests.

While the 59-year-old is acutely aware of the impact this week's events have had on Wales' preparations, the team are now keen to move on.   

"I am pretty sure I would have easily got a team if I had walked up St Mary Street and asked who was up for beating England. But thankfully we never got that far," Gatland said.

"On Thursday morning I finally named the team. I said it had been a challenging week and we needed to draw a line in the sand and focus entirely on playing against England.

"In fairness to the boys, given what has been going on, they have trained hard and been good in the sessions. It has probably been a welcome distraction to them and I have to take my hat off to them.

"The difficult thing to assess is what impact the mental stress of this week has had on the players. One thing I can promise the Welsh supporters is that the players know how much it means to you. Armageddon or not."

Wales captain Ken Owens said the ordeal had made Welsh rugby "a laughing stock" as he urged the players to pull together in order to get a much-needed result in Cardiff.

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