Martyn Phillips: Welsh Rugby Union hopeful on player pay talks

Martyn Phillips on the chances of Wales playing in England again

Chief executive Martyn Phillips is confident the Welsh Rugby Union can reach a new agreement with Wales' top players about future pay cuts.

Phillips is in talks with the Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) after an initial three-month 25% pay reduction was agreed in April.

"We are not at a point yet we've found something we all think works," said Phillips.

"I'm confident we can conclude."

There is a prospect of longer-term salary reductions but the WRPA issued a cautionary statement on Monday warning discussions must "avoid the issues we are seeing around arbitrary pay cuts and player revolts in other countries".

"The statement they put out was professional and considered," said Phillips.

"A lot of times you do these things and it's us and them but this is the opposite. You've got a group trying to make an arrangement to make Welsh rugby sustainable and they've been first class.

"My job is to make sure the players are looked after and regions are sustainable so the Welsh team can perform.

"It's not been easy. It would appear that's been challenging in other clubs and countries and our guys have been good. We're talking about people's livelihoods."

The coronavirus pandemic has taken its financial toll on the WRU who last month announced they were looking for a loan.

Phillips has refused to be drawn on where that money may come from but the Welsh Government and an £80m World Rugby emergency fund are potential options.

WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips and Wales head coach Wayne Pivac have agreed 25 per cent pay cuts
WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips and Wales head coach Wayne Pivac have agreed 25 per cent pay cuts following the coronavirus pandemic

"It's pretty urgent," said Phillips.

"We're working our way through and we've got a few options we're considering.

"We are probably two weeks into that process. It would be good to get it done by the end of July but it might be hard to get it done as quickly as that."

Crucial revenue could come from the autumn series with Wales due to face Scotland in a rearranged Six Nations game on 31 October and scheduled November internationals against New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Fiji.

With their postponed summer tour to Japan and New Zealand set to be scrapped, Wales are waiting to see whether southern hemisphere sides will tour Europe this autumn.

If not, the major contingency plan is an eight-team tournament against the other Six Nations sides and Japan and Fiji to take place in November and possibly December.

If restrictions were tightened further, England, Wales and Scotland could be involved in a mini-tournament. Phillips believes the 2020 calendar is taking shape.

"It's largely down to the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) as well FFR and LNR in France to iron things out," he said.

"We're nearly there, we're just waiting on those two nations to square things out so it's down to England and France to get us over the line."

Playing away from the Principality Stadium is a strong possibility as the ground remains a standby hospital in case of a second coronavirus spike.

The possible use of alternative venues, including outside Wales, would depend on whether crowds would be permitted.

"I don't think we're going to know before September but if there were no crowds clearly we'd want to play those games in Wales, it doesn't make any sense to go further afield," Phillips added.

"If we can play in front of part crowds that gives certain venue options.

"I have seen the Wembley, Twickenham, Tottenham scenarios, but because there's a stadium fee attached to that you'd only want to go there if you could get a sizable crowd in to warrant paying the stadium hire fee. "

When asked directly whether Wales could play 'home' games at Twickenham, the traditional base of English rugby, Phillips replied: "We're weighing up any scenario.

"When you're in a situation like this you don't have the luxury of excluding too many things.

"If you're looking at a football stadium you're at the mercy of the fixture lists for those games. In this scenario you have to take what you can."

Martyn Phillips and Ryan Jones on the changes to the women's game in Wales.

Global game

Beyond 2020, Phillips is on World Rugby's six man working group set up to discuss the much talked about long-term global game calendar.

The key objective is to run the domestic seasons of the north and southern hemispheres concurrently in the calendar year.

International windows would also be moved, with the July window shifted to October to allow a longer block of Test fixtures in the autumn, meaning the three current windows would become two.

Phillips says the group initially looked at the international game.

"There seemed to be general agreement across moving into two international windows," said Phillips.

"It was less disruptive and didn't have the players going into a tournament and out again. The working group looked at what might be suitable international tournaments for those two windows.

"That was as far as it went. We deliberately resisted the temptation to then say what would that mean for the club game? So we started a sort of, well, it wasn't even a consultation, but it's been branded as that.

"We just asked what would the clubs want to do to wrap itself around those two windows.

"The club tournaments are working on that and its for them to decide how they want that to work. I hope in the next few weeks we could get to what the club and international tournaments look like."

Opposition from Premiership and Top 14 clubs could scupper the global calendar project as new season dates are considered.

"That's for England and France to work their way through with their clubs," said Phillips.

"If they can't reach an agreement it probably does draw to a halt so it probably was not meant to be."

Phillips also admitted a decision on whether the British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa stays in July and August next year or is switched to the autumn is the most pressing concern for 2021.