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STRIKE IS WRONG!; Public 2-to-1 against the players' plan in our poll.

WALES on Sunday readers are 2-1 against the threatened players strike according to our poll on the controversy.

Last week we asked readers their views on the Gang Of Six's threat to withdraw players from the Twickenham clash. And the result was abundantly clear - a phone vote revealed and emphatic two-to-one against.

But last night the prospect of a no-show of Welsh stars against the English loomed large.

And First Minister Rhodri Morgan described this unprecedented situation as "unacceptable".

"You cannot go into the game against England expecting to win when you haven't picked your best team, " he said.

"I think at the moment there's a lot of brinkmanship going on and a similar situation to this happened in England a few years ago but they solved the problem between the big clubs and the English Rugby Union.

"I hope that the brinkmanship is just that because it's not acceptable to have the players withdrawn.

"I am sure it won't happen but even brinkmanship is dangerous because a week before the game the players should be concentrating on training and nothing else.

"We have got to make sure we solve it this weekend.

"There's no bigger game in the sporting calendar. For a hundred years it's been the game where we test ourselves and know where we are as a nation.

"If you go back to the first Welsh golden age of rugby between 1896-1914 we judged ourselves on winning Triple Crowns and beating England.

"That remains true now. That's why the win at Wembley was so important and that will be continued to be celebrated for the next 20 years."

The First Minister said yesterday the game in Wales has now reached a state comparable to the desperate days of the 20s and 30s.

"I would like to see Tasker Watkins' report implemented, that's the best way forward where we have a professional top tier and, at the base of the pyramid, a thriving amateur scene.

"At the moment blazers are looking after blazers when they should be looking after the players.

"The game is not in a healthy state, players are not coming through the school system."

On Friday night the situation reached a new low when Newport owner Tony Brown was refused admission to see his side play at Ebbw Vale.

Justifying the decision Ebbw Vale board member Paul Russell blasted: "We refused Tony Brown for the same reason Winston Churchill would not have allowed Hitler to come to dinner."

Wales wing legend Gerald Davies, made an out-of-character no-holds-barred attack on the WRU yesterday.

Wading into the debate he blasted: "We were commissioned by the WRU at the behest of its 239 clubs to conduct this working party report.

"We spoke to various people, travelled to meet various people, spent months from May 2000 when there was the first meeting putting this together. Nothing happened.

"Then the WRU ignored our proposals and put forward their own on the back of an envelope.

"This is a total mess. The game of rugby in Wales will be finished unless something is sorted out."

Davies is not the first rugby legend to condemn the threat of a players strike.

Former greats Bobby Windsor and Clive Rowlands fumed at the prospect while Mervyn Davies said the England game would be "like the Armageddon".

Ex-Lions hooker Windsor said: "It is an absolute disgrace.

"Who are this bunch of cheeky players to say they are going on strike when they have had untold record scores put on them by everyone?

"They should have jumped off the Severn Bridge in shame instead of talking about strike action.

"As a player at international and club level all your concerns should be about playing rugby.

The structure of the game has got nothing to do with them and they should stay out of it.

"If I were in charge of the WRU I would bring in the next bunch of boys.

"At least they would give the Welsh jersey everything they have got."

Former Wales skipper and coach Rowlands said: "From the day they are born, most Welshmen hope and dream of playing for Wales one day, but now we are talking about people who are thinking of turning that chance down.

"Playing for Wales is an honour. I would give my right arm to play for Wales again.

"Most former Welsh internationals would be sickened by the thought of players striking for a game with England - the greatest game in the rugby calendar for Welshmen.

Ex-Wales and Lions star Mervyn Davies says there would be disastrous consequences if Wales were to field a seriously weakened side against England.

"It would be like the Armageddon, " he said.

"We would have no chance.

"The result would be embarrassing. There is not much strength in depth in Wales and the game would be a disaster."

CAPTION(S):

CLUB WAR VICTIM: Newport RFC owner Tony Brown (right) watching Friday night's game in the pub
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 17, 2002
Words:825
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