Now it’s down to business! Wales stars return to the pitch after strike threats as they go through their captain’s run on eve of England clash with Warren Gatland’s side still looking for a first win in the 2023 Six Nations
- Warren Gatland made nine changes to the side that were beaten by Scotland
- Players had threatened strike action over contractual demands until Wednesday
- ALEX BYWATER: Welsh rugby chiefs won’t forget this historic day in a hurry
Warren Gatland’s Wales squad have been snapped on their captain’s run after plans of a proposed strike came to an end after a long stalemate over players’ contracts.
The captain’s run – which is a session led by the skipper rather than the coach – saw players return to the field to prepare for Saturday’s grudge match with England in the Six Nations, with Wales still looking for a first win.
The game came close to being called off, before a breakthrough was at last made in negotiations over the unpopular 60-cap rule, among other issues, but a compromise was eventually met with the Welsh Rugby Union.
Gatland has ripped up his team making nine changes to the side that was thumped 35-7 by the Scots last time out, with Mason Grady debuting at centre at just 20 years of age.
And although he had been dropped to the bench, Dan Biggar was seen smiling as he passed the ball around at the Principality Stadium on Friday ahead of the crunch tie, with Louis Rees-Zammit also in action as he returns from injury.
Wales players were seen on their captain’s run ahead of Saturday’s clash against England
Dan Biggar was all smiles despite being dropped to the bench as one of Warren Gatland’s nine changes
Gatland was also present at the stadium, but captain Ken Owens led the run-through that saw his side make their final preparations to welcome England to Cardiff.
As well as the abolition of the controversial 60-cap rule, Welsh rugby players were calling for a representative on Wales’ Professional Rugby Board, and the removal of the fixed variable element of proposed contracts if they were not to strike.
The 60-cap rule dictates that only players that have reached that many appearances in the iconic red shirt will still be considered for selection if playing outside of the domestic league – a number which has now been decreased to 25.
A crisis meeting was held on Wednesday, with some 200 Welsh-based players in attendance at Vale Hotel, after the side had threatened to strike for the upcoming fixture.
But with perhaps the biggest came in Wales’ international rugby calendar looming large on the horizon, a compromise was reached meaning the England game will go ahead as planned.
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) had still to sign a new six-year funding agreement with it’s four regions, as a result, the 90 players out of contract at the end of the season may not have been granted extensions, casting uncertainty over their futures.
Sportsmail revealed the worry of that uncertainty led to one Wales squad member to take antidepressants during this year’s Six Nations.
And although Wales coach Gatland was supportive of their actions, he did suggest that there may have been a better time for the threats of strike action.
Warren Gatland was in attendance at the Principality Stadium although the session was led by Owens
Louis Rees-Zammit is back in the side following an ankle injury to the Gloucester speedster
Players were seen stretching on the field before the captain’s run at the Principality Stadium
WALES SIDE TO FACE ENGLAND
Backs: Leigh Halfpenny; Louis Rees-Zammit, Mason Grady, Joe Hawkins, Josh Adams; Owen Williams; Tomos Williams
Forwards: Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (capt), Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones, Christ Tshiunza, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau
Replacements: Bradley Roberts, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Kieran Hardy, Dan Biggar, Nick Tompkins
‘When players are having meetings and it’s only them involved, you’re not quite sure of their demands. I support the players in terms of the action that was taken,’ Gatland said.
‘I suppose young men are sometimes a little bit impulsive. There could probably have been a period where they could have laid down their demands. It came pretty quickly and there was a lot of pressure put on the Union and the regions to get things resolved because they’d finally decided they’d had enough.
‘Maybe there could have been a little bit more warning but that’s the way it is and they made those calls. I think at the end of it they’re pretty happy with the outcome.’
The Welsh side are undergoing a period of transition, with Gatland back at the helm after a three year absence to attempt to steer a struggling side back towards the success that he brought during his first spell.
However, several of the key figures that under-pinned his success have been dropped, with George North and Liam Williams left out of Saturday’s match entirely.
It is a new look Wales, with Grady making a first start and Owen Williams and Joe Hawkins coming in at fly-half and centre respectively.
Wales are still looking for a first win of the tournament and will take on arch-rivals England on Saturday
Veteran former captain Alun Wyn Jones returns to the side after missing the defeat to Scotland
Speedster Rees-Zammit is likely to be one of Wales’ most potent attacking threats in Cardiff
At the culmination of what looked set to be one of the darkest weeks in Welsh rugby’s storied history, perhaps the best chance of a crowd-pleasing win over England is Rees-Zammit, with the Gloucester flyer back from an ankle injury.
Stalwart Leigh Halfpenny returns at full-back to provide greater defensive stability in the face of the threat England pose.
And it is an experienced forward pack – with Gatland perhaps opting for veterans who have experience in the biggest games with keeping the emotion off the field.
Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Tomas Francis and Taulupe Faletau will all take to the field after sitting out the mauling at the hands of Gregor Townsend’s Scotland.
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