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Ken Owens says Wales ‘galvanised’ after strike threat and out to make fans proud

Ken Owens will lead Wales into Six Nations action against England (David Davies/PA) (PA Wire)
Ken Owens will lead Wales into Six Nations action against England (David Davies/PA) (PA Wire)

Ken Owens says he never wants to experience a repeat of the off-field crisis that engulfed Welsh rugby and threatened Saturday’s showpiece Guinness Six Nations clash against England.

Wales captain Owens will lead his “galvanised” team out at the Principality Stadium just 72 hours after a possible national squad strike was averted.

Compromises were ultimately found with Welsh rugby powerbrokers over contentious issues like Wales’ 60-cap selection policy for players plying their trade outside the country and fixed-variable contracts across the regional game.

Against such a back-drop, Wales must somehow try to revive a Six Nations campaign that started with crushing defeats at the hands of Ireland and Scotland.

Wales have not lost their first three Six Nations games since 2003, although their recent record against England in Cardiff is impressive, having won five of the last seven encounters.

“It has been a shock to all the players,” Owens said, reflecting on matters away from the pitch.

“There were a lot of tough conversations and meetings, everyone voiced their opinion and everyone backed the decision that the team and the squad have made.

We have made a stand, we have made people stand up and take notice and showed the strength we have as a playing group

Wales captain Ken Owens

“It (strike action) was a last resort, and the frustrations that have built up over a year, not just the last six weeks, brought it to this.

“The squad has been galvanised and come together, and I am sure you will see that on Saturday.

“It is a shame it got as far as it did, but what is done is done, what has gone has gone. We have made a stand, we have made people stand up and take notice and showed the strength we have as a playing group.

“And if we can move on now and concentrate on the rugby, the powers that be will get things done and the players will have their seat at the table and a voice and hopefully we will never end up in this situation again.

“They (Welsh public) gave us their support, and now we owe them a performance that Wales can be proud of on Saturday to repay their support for us.”

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made nine changes for England’s visit, with cap centurions George North and Dan Biggar among those left out.

Three of their British and Irish Lions colleagues, though – Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau – are recalled and bring a combined 343 caps to the table between them.

Gatland has selected 24 players to start in three Six Nations games this season, with his latest switches including a Test debut for 20-year-old Cardiff centre Mason Grady, Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit returning from injury and Ospreys fly-half Owen Williams handed a first Wales start in the number 10 shirt.

Gatland said: “It’s trying to manage making a few changes where we are giving players with not much international experience some experience around them to make that transition as smooth as possible.

“But also for those experienced players to give that knowledge down to the youngsters. It is just a balancing act at the moment.

“When you hear comments from the other top international sides in the world, when they used to say (about Wales) ‘this side is never going to go away, they will play for 80 minutes, they are not going to give in’.

“That is the level that we have to get to. We are not quite there at the moment, but we are working hard to get there.

“We expect them (England) to kick a lot on Saturday, and we have got to make sure we have got the tools to negate that and be prepared to make sure we stay in the battle.”

Wales conceded a total of 35 penalties during the Ireland and Scotland losses, and Owens added: “We have put a massive emphasis on it and we’ve seen improvements in the way we have trained and how we are training.

“Penalties are how teams build their game. We’ve looked at statistics from when they (England) came here in 2019, and we gave away four penalties and four lineouts. They weren’t in the game for the second half.

“If there is a blueprint to look at of how to stop England, then it is not feeding their momentum with ill-discipline and giving them opportunities.

“It has been a horrendous two weeks, but we can only focus on the rugby now, moving forward, getting a result on Saturday to put some pride back into the shirt.”