The newly-formed Professional Rugby Board (PRB) are to discuss plans for a radical change to regional rugby in Wales, which could see the introduction of a club in the north of the country and one less team in the south.
Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) chief executive Martyn Phillips addressed Gatland’s Grand Slam hopefuls on Monday to discuss the issue, which Wales’ head coach stressed has been driven by the regions rather than the governing body.
Gatland has urged his squad not to lose focus as they eye a Grand Slam but says the uncertainty has understandably had an effect on the group.
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“There’s no doubt the players have been distracted. It is concerning. Players have been going home and asked questions by wives and partners what’s going on,” said the New Zealander.
“Our message to the players is we need to wait and see what the outcome of the PRB meeting is going to be, the conclusion between the four regions and the union collectively. It’s a joint decision. You try and put players’ minds to rest and focus on winning the Six Nations.
“It’s been a challenge for the players. That’s why we had Martyn Phillips here yesterday addressing the squad.
“The PRB involves the four regions and the union. This hasn’t been driven by the union, it was approached by two regions about a merger because some of the difficulties we are aware of because of the financial pressures.”
He added: “The timing isn’t brilliant but the players have been professional. If a team does end up in north Wales, it’s going to be challenging for players who may go up there but from a Welsh perspective I see it as a massive opportunity.
“There’s a million people and big businesses up there. Our crowds aren’t big enough. A team in north Wales may be a positive outcome for Welsh rugby long term.
“I want to reiterate it has not been driven by the WRU but by the regions. There’s been a lot of criticism of the WRU in the last 48 hours but a lot of it is misinformation.
“People want to take a breath. We need to work together for the best solution for the game in Wales.”
Ken Owens and the Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) have issued a statement on the back of intense speculation about the future structure of professional rugby in Wales.
Owens, Chairman of the WRPA said: “As the chairman of the WRPA I am deeply concerned about the situation that the player 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. I appeal to all stakeholders to have the concerns and welfare needs of all those that stand to be affected by the proposed changes at the forefront of their minds.
“It’s also clear players need to be represented on the PRB because they can and must be part of the solution. Without them there is no Welsh Rugby.”
In support of the comments from the Chairman Ken Owens, players from the regions also expressed their concern about the huge impact that the proposed changes will have upon the lives of the fantastic team of people who provide the support that essential to allow the players to take the field, from immediate team support across to the commercial and community teams who work tirelessly to support and promote regional Rugby.
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