Six Nations

Welsh rugby shake-up talks have distracted players, admits Gatland

2019-03-05 19:54
Warren Gatland (Getty Images)

Cardiff - Warren Gatland says his Grand Slam-chasing players have been distracted by a proposed shake-up of domestic Welsh rugby that is expected to involve a Scarlets-Ospreys merger.

Scores of professional players' immediate futures are in limbo, with Wales's Professional Rugby Board (PRB) trying to thrash out a solution in meetings held on Tuesday.

Those hopes were hit, though, when the Ospreys announced that Mike James resigned as their chairman at the start of Tuesday's PRB meeting, citing the Welsh Rugby Union's "catastrophic mismanagement" of efforts to overhaul the game.

Wales' PRB comprises representatives from the WRU and existing regions the Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragons and Cardiff Blues.

A new professional team in north Wales could be formed as part of so-called "Project Reset" in Welsh rugby's biggest domestic shake-up since the inception of regional sides 16 years ago.

WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips addressed the Wales players on Monday, but it is all being played out against a backdrop of Wales chasing a first Six Nations title for six years.

Victory in their final two games against Scotland and Ireland would also secure a Grand Slam.

"There is no doubt the players have been distracted," Wales head coach Gatland said.

"We are trying to limit that distraction, which is why we had the meeting yesterday to try and inform the players about what was going on so we could put it behind us and really focus on an important game for us.

"There is no doubt it has been a challenge for the players in the last couple of days."

He added: "We have a special group of players at the moment, and (Wales captain) Alun Wyn Jones said at the end of the meeting that our whole focus has to be on Saturday and preparing for the best way to play Scotland.

"Sometimes you have to have the ability in all walks of life, whether it be professional or sport, to put adversity behind you and focus on your job. I am sure the players will do that."

It is understood that the favoured plan is to retain four regional teams, comprising north Wales, an Ospreys-Scarlets merger, Blues and Dragons.

Welsh Rugby Players Association chairman Ken Owens said: "I am deeply concerned about the situation that the players across the four regions face.

"I recognise that this is the most challenging situation that I or arguably any player has faced during our rugby careers."

James said in a statement released by the Ospreys that he understood regional rugby in Wales needed to be restructured.

But he added: "The way in which this has been handled, however, is nothing short of chaotic, resulting in a fatal combination of uncertainty, conjecture and insecurity now hanging over regional rugby's future."

Read more on:    wales  |  six nations  |  warren gatland  |  rugby

 

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