Wales won’t be distracted by uncertainty over regions, says Howley
Players met union during the week as talks between WRU and clubs have stalled
Wales assistant coach Rob Howley: ‘I am quite saddened. It’s uncertain times, which is disappointing. There is a lot of frustration.’ Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho.
While Wales are just two wins away from Six Nations glory, the regional game is shrouded by uncertainty. Wales players met with the Welsh Rugby Union earlier this week as a debate about so-called Project Reset continues to rage.
The WRU and Wales’ four professional teams – Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Dragons – have been discussing Welsh rugby’s future domestic structure. But those talks have stalled, and while the status quo will be retained for next season, nothing has been so far thrashed out for 2020-21 and beyond.
It is understood a possible amalgamation of two regions – and culling one region completely – while establishing a new professional team in north Wales, are among items that have been discussed.
And there are also concerns among the regions’ playing base, which includes the overwhelming majority of Wales’ current squad, about future contracts.
Asked about the meeting between players and WRU, and timing of it, Wales assistant coach Howley said: “It’s not ideal, but we respected the players’ view they needed to find out information and garner as much as they can.
“In terms of the trust and respect we have for our players, we believe it was an opportunity for the players to ask questions and listen, to find out information which might help their friends back in the regions understand what’s going to happen in the next six-12 months.”
Regarding any possibility of players being distracted, Howley added: “I don’t think so. The players we have seen this week are pretty focused on the job in hand and what we need to do as a group. (Head coach) Warren Gatland’s environment is pretty special. You can see the players are solely focused on doing their best.
“You respect their honesty because there is a frustration there because their mates might not have a contract, or how many regions there will be. Who knows? So there is uncertainty, and when there is uncertainty there is a lot of frustration. At this moment, that’s where the players feel they are.
“I am quite saddened. It’s uncertain times, which is disappointing. There is a lot of frustration, not only for the best players in Wales, but for their mates in the regions.
“There’s an uncertainty about Project Reset, and they would like to know where they are going to be playing next year or in two years’ time. At this moment in time, that’s a frustration, and I agree with that frustration.
“It’s a players’ game, and they give everything for their country. But, at this moment in time, you feel for the players who aren’t here, who are in their regions, and have uncertainty whether they have got work next year or not.”
Wales will head to Edinburgh next week – they have won on four of their last five Murrayfield visits – and victory in the Scottish capital would leave the Six Nations title and Grand Slam at stake when they host Ireland seven days later.
“The focus is Scotland, ” Howley said. “It’s the next game. We have not got many good memories of what happened two years ago (Scotland beat Wales 29-13). They are very much etched in our memories.
“We know how good Scotland can be. It is just making sure our mental preparation is right.”