England's Borthwick sympathises with Wales players over contract dispute

England coach Steve Borthwick said he had "incredible sympathy" for Welsh rugby players after a strike-threatened Six Nations clash between the arch-rivals was given the green light.

Saturday's match in Cardiff was in doubt as Wales players contemplated downing tools over a contract dispute but progress in talks with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) means it will go ahead.

Many of the Welsh players' current deals expire at the end of the season, with no certainty even now as to when they might receive new written contracts.

"We have incredible sympathy for what the Welsh players have gone through," Borthwick said on Thursday after naming his match-day 23.

"No player, no professional athlete should have to deal with that level of uncertainty and anxiety. We really sympathise with them.

"From our point of view, we've focused on the game and being the best-prepared team we possibly can be. Other stuff we can't control, so we just concentrate on what we can do."

A crowd of 74,000 may be particularly keen to back Wales given the doubts over whether the game would take place, but Borthwick said it would be hard for home fans to be more raucous than usual for a Wales-England game.

"The thing here is what an incredible place it is to play rugby," said Borthwick, who took over from Eddie Jones in December. "It's absolutely terrific and the players are excited about it."

- 'Brilliant at the basics' -

England last won a Six Nations match in Cardiff in 2017 and Borthwick said his emerging team needed to be "brilliant at the basics".

"Every day over the last four weeks -- it's not been an awful long time -- what we're trying to do is make sure we build those foundations of our game," he said.

Borthwick is bidding to win his second match in three games as England boss, following a 31-14 win over Italy last time out.

This weekend's clash will pit him against Warren Gatland, with the New Zealander still searching for the first win of his second spell in charge of Wales following defeats by Ireland and Scotland.

Borthwick worked as a forwards coach when Gatland was in charge of the 2017 British and Irish Lions side, which drew 1-1 in a three-match series against New Zealand.

"It was a great opportunity to work with him and understand a little bit more about how he sees the game," recalled Borthwick. "And, clearly, I have a lot of respect for him.

"With our team I've been very clear about what we're trying to do -- we're trying to rebuild. It's a different situation from what other teams are in."

Gatland has dropped some familiar figures from his starting XV in George North and Dan Biggar but veteran full-back Leigh Halfpenny is in the side.

"There are a huge number of caps in their team and it just adds to the excitement of a fantastic fixture," said Borthwick.