England’s Cockerill expects contract dispute to ‘galvanise’ Wales amid strike talk

Richard Cockerill will leave England for Montpellier at the conclusion of the Guinness Six Nations

England scrum coach Richard Cockerill says that he expects the Wales squad to be “galvanised” by the contract dispute which is causing the group to consider strike action.

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, the 52-year-old was asked about the current impasse which the Welsh Rugby Union [WRU] and the four regions [Cardiff Rugby, Dragons RFC, Scarlets and Ospreys] are having.

Looking to establish the budgets which the regions will be operating with from next season, one current Wales international disclosed that he was taking antidepressants because of the anxiety surrounding his, and others, future.

In the next week, there is set to be a decisive meeting between professional rugby players in Wales and the potential of industrial action is on the table, throwing the nation’s Guinness Six Nations clash with England in Cardiff up in the air.

Cockerill, who will depart the England set-up for a new role with Top 14 champions Montpellier at the conclusion of the Six Nations, says that he expects the Wales squad to gel together even further as a result of the current struggles they face.

“I think, if anything it will probably galvanise them, because they have issues,” Cockerill said. “I don’t really understand what the politics of it is, but from my experience with any hardship with playing group, it generally brings them tighter together.

“We are just preparing for this week; we are looking at ourselves and how we can improve our game and we will start and get into Wales next week.

“We’ll treat them with the respect we always do, England have always found it difficult down in Cardiff. We are preparing and getting our minds around purely that.”

A new payment structure in Wales would see just 80 per cent of salaries guaranteed and top players would only earn a maximum of £278,000, which is a considerable reduction from the current £400,000.

As a result, there may well be a mass-exodus of players to clubs outside of Wales. Will Rowlands has already committed to playing his domestic rugby elsewhere after signing with Racing 92 from next season and made himself unavailable for international selection by falling foul of Wales’s 60 cap policy.

There are even similarities to when England players went on strike in a despite over pay ahead of their 2000 Test with Argentina at Twickenham.

Unable to come to an agreement, England internationals downed tools in what was described as “the saddest day in the history of English rugby” by former head coach, Sir Clive Woodward.

“To be honest, Clive had booted me out of the door by then,” Cockerill said when asked about his memory of that England strike. “It is a long time ago.

“I feel if players feel they have to stick up for themselves, they stick up for themselves and do what they need to do, but from our end, from an England end, we are concentrating on training this week and we know how difficult it is going to be going to Cardiff.”

Quite when the outcome of the meeting between professional players in Wales comes to light is uncertain, all the while England and Wales will be preparing for their Six Nations clash.

England are fresh off the back of their first win under Steve Borthwick after bettering Italy 31-14 at Twickenham Stadium last weekend, while Wales have lost both of their opening fixtures heavily.

Warren Gatland’s return to the Wales set-up has been far from seamless after the New Zealander retook the head coaching position from his countryman Wayne Pivac.

With a resolution seemingly still far away, it is a saga which will rage on for some time to come.