Welsh rugby in turmoil over George North move

JUST over two weeks after Wales retained their RBS Six Nations title, rugby in the country has lurched into civil war between the four regions and the Welsh Rugby Union sparked by star wing George North’s proposed move to Northampton Saints.

The WRU issued a strongly-worded statement on Sunday, of which the most startling content was an accusation that the Scarlets had looked to cash in on one of their key assets by touting North to clubs in France last year – without the Wales wing’s knowledge.

The WRU claims North was only informed of those discussions over his transfer at the start of the Six Nations in February. The 20-year-old has a year remaining on his current contract at Parc y Scarlets, but appears set for a summer move to Aviva Premiership side Northampton for a fee reportedly in the range of £250,000, having rejected the prospect of a move across the channel.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The WRU also claimed it was prepared to provide the backing to keep North in Wales by tying him to a central contract, reported to be with Cardiff Blues, only to later discover the regions had an agreement in place not to field any player contracted to the union.

Yesterday the four Welsh regions who compete in the RaboDirect PRO12 – Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff Blues and Newport-Gwent Dragons – responded with a joint statement.

“The four Welsh regions are united in expressing how staggered and bitterly disappointed they all are with the nature, intent and content of the public statement made by the WRU this morning on a number of 
issues affecting Welsh rugby,” the statement began.

“As the governing body that should lead and set the standards and platform for the profile of the game in Wales, the regions are surprised at the WRU’s seemingly defensive reaction to some of the media reporting, particularly given the success of yesterday’s Welsh derby double-header.

“As a celebration of regional rugby that attracted close to 37,000 supporters of our game, it was a clear example of the benefits of a partnership approach between the four regions to create fresh opportunities to promote the regional game in Wales and enjoyed by both regional players and spectators.

“There are a number of significant comments made within the WRU statement, that the four regions will now need to consider very seriously and with the appropriate amount of time and discussion before making a full and united response.”

The Scarlets had earlier independently rubbished the WRU’s suggestions and asserted that far from actively seeking to offload North, they have done all they can to retain his services.

Their statement on Sunday read: “The Scarlets are astonished and disappointed that the governing body of Welsh rugby has chosen to speak about an individual player from within our region publicly in this fashion.

“We must therefore clarify, that at no time has the WRU made any proposal to us to help retain any player international or otherwise within our region.

“Any contract discussions involving George North have only taken place within the last two months including the Scarlets’ offer of a three-year contract extension that was the very best offer that the club could make.”

North was one of the key figures in Wales’ championship win, scoring the winning try in Paris that kick-started their campaign and producing powerful and consistent performances on the wing. He is considered to be a shoo-in for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in the summer.

The WRU went on to urge the regions to abandon their opposition to central contracts, which is their preferred method of 
ensuring the best Welsh talent remains in Wales.

In a separate section of its wide-ranging statement, the WRU also laid the blame for the delay in establishing a Professional Regional Game Board [PRGB] firmly at the door of the regions.

In yesterday’s joint statement, the regions rebutted that accusation and claimed the delay was the fault of the union.

Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues chief executive Richard Holland has hailed Wales’ first double header fixture a success. Ospreys beat the Blues 23-16 and Scarlets defeated the Dragons 28-20 at the Millennium Stadium.

Holland said: “Cardiff Blues matches at the Millennium Stadium have always drawn big crowds and we are delighted with the numbers that turned up for the double header fixture.

“When we, the Blues and Dragons, first approached the WRU regarding holding our home matches at the national stadium we knew there would be a lot of hard work involved.

“However, I think Saturday’s matches shows what can be achieved when the regions and the union work together.

“Saturday was a fantastic way to showcase the best rugby talent in Wales.

“A majority of the players that the regions have developed, who helped win Six Nations championship, were on display.

“I would like to thank our staff who have worked tirelessly alongside the WRU in arranging the match, as well as the union for putting so much financial resource behind the marketing of the games.

“The double header Millennium Stadium matches will, I’m sure, go from strength to strength and Saturday was a great starting point.”