Wales’ Six Nations match against England in Cardiff on Saturday will go ahead after potential strike action from Welsh players over a contract dispute was averted, the Welsh Rugby Union has announced.
Players had gathered at Wales’ training base in the Vale of Glamorgan to discuss a range of issues with Professional Rugby Board members, with many of them out of contract at their regional teams at the end of this season.
The threat of players taking Six Nations strike action occurred as a result of a new six-year financial agreement between the Welsh Rugby Union and its four regions not being confirmed and no playing budgets finalised.
But acting WRU chief executive Nigel Walker said: “I’m pleased to announce that after extensive conversations and discussions over the last week the Wales-England game will go ahead as scheduled.
“It’s important going forward that we continue the dialogue over the last week or so, but not under the circumstances we’ve had over the last week or so.
“Ken and I and some of the senior players will be meeting more regularly than perhaps we have in the past.”
Owens said: “We are obviously happy. There has been huge frustration over the last number of months that it got to this stage. We felt we had to make a stand, but the conversations that have taken place over the last 10 days or so have shown that some positive resolutions can be found.
“The players are satisfied, hence why the game is on on Saturday. It has been very tough, hugely frustrating. It has been a difficult period, but we have fronted up in training and prepared as we would for any Test match and we are looking forward to getting out there and going toe-to-toe with England.
“Of course it has been a distraction with everything that has been going on, but I have got to commend the players’ professionalism in this.
“When we have crossed that white line at training, we’ve done our work as professional players. We are really ready for Saturday.”
Wales players had called for the contentious minimum 60-cap Test selection rule for players plying their trade outside the country to be scrapped.
The players had also wanted a voice at Professional Rugby Board meetings and a review of proposed fixed variable contracts that see only 80 per cent of salary guaranteed, with the remaining 20 per comprising bonus-related payments.
Walker said: “Gareth Lewis, chief executive of the WRPA (Welsh Rugby Players Association), attended his first PRB meeting earlier today. He’s got a standing invite and he will be invited to the Rugby Management Board.
“With regards to the 60-cap rule that rule is still there. But the number of caps has been reduced to 25.”
On the issue of pay, Walker added: “Going forward we’ll have a hybrid model where there’ll be the fixed and variable.
“But there will also be a solely fixed model and the agent, player and the region can choose which one they want to have discussions about.”
Owens called for a long-term fix to the issues that have plagued Welsh rugby.
“It’s got to be a long-term solution because Welsh rugby can’t keep going on this merry-go-round of crisis after crisis because it’s affecting everybody in the game – players, supporters, administrators, grass roots clubs,” he said.
“With the events of the last six to eight weeks everybody in Welsh rugby needs to pull together now to find the best way forward.
“We need to do it collaboratively to put Welsh rugby back at the top of world rugby, and not the laughing stock which I think we are at the moment.”