Wales star Nick Tompkins has revealed the national team walked off the training pitch in the tumultous week that shook Welsh rugby during this year's Six Nations as he opened up about the "sad and scary" reality facing players amid all the uncertainty.
Warren Gatland's side's clash with England hung in the balance for days as players threatened to go on strike due to a contract dispute with Welsh rugby bosses, with the situation forcing Gatland to postpone his team announcement and call off a training session which he claimed was to let his squad "get away from it and refocus".
While the dispute later came to a resolution on a dramatic day that saw the strikes called off and changes including the scrapping of the 60-cap law introduced, Tompkins has confirmed players refused to train as their frustration at the uncertainty surrounding the Welsh game came to a head.
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In an interview with i ahead of the Gallagher Premiership final, Saracens star Tompkins - who will star for his side in the Gallagher Premiership final against Sale on Saturday - said he "felt like an imposter" as a non-Welsh based player at the negotiations. However, he stressed the importance of putting on a united front with his teammates who represented the regions, including captain Ken Owens who had "sleepless nights" during the ordeal.
"I've never been in a situation like that, where it felt so lost, and so angry," he said. "We went to train on the Tuesday, but we all just walked off. Ken and the senior lads were vocal, and their point was they wanted to do this for the good of Welsh rugby, not themselves. Ken had sleepless nights; I was so sorry for him.
"I almost felt like an imposter - why am I getting a vote? But it's important that I did and I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if they were on strike, and we would play".
"In the end, we came down to the decision to play, and some people weren't happy with it," he added. "But it's all about compromise and the problem was if we did strike, you're looking at a region probably going down and under because of the money an international match brings in."
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A dramatic day of crunch talks at the Vale Resort on February 22 saw compromises eventually reached, including players being offered a choice between a higher potential salary based on bonuses or a lower guaranteed figure and the 60-cap law being significantly lowered to 25.
However, Tompkins - who has now won 27 caps for his country - described moves including the changed cap rule as "a short-term solution", as he explained how he understood why Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones may have decided to walk away from the international game ahead of this year's World Cup,
"It's a short-term solution to a long-term problem," he said. "You look at Justin Tipuric, he's retired, as has Alun Wyn Jones, which is tough just before the World Cup. Big characters, great players. I was gutted because I like them both - I spoke to Justin last week - but I can see why they did it. Justin is a big family man and it takes a massive toll on the family. I can completely understand."
Tompkins believes Welsh rugby should look at other rugby models that have worked in Scotland and Ireland, calling for the "squabbling for money" among the regions to end.
The centre said the uncertainty of recent months had made him "sad" and introspective, as he explained his newfound appreciation of how fragile a professional rugby career can be and the importance of taking a stand on issues like pay, on which he believes players should have far more of a say.
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