Fresh off the back of a successful Six Nations campaign, controversy has struck for the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). Their public statement regarding the way the Scarlets have handled the George North saga has earned them the ire of not only the Scarlets, but also the Blues, Dragons and Ospreys.
The crux of the WRU’s statement centred around the belief they had that the Scarlets had begun talks to sell North, prior to even discussing this with the player himself, as well as their claims that they were prepared to financially help a region, believed to be the Blues, land North, and keep him in Wales. The Scarlets in turn responded quickly with a statement of their own, indicating that they were disappointed that the WRU had gone public with this statement, and that they had offered North a three-year extension, and it was the ‘very best offer the club could make.’
Regional Rugby Wales’ (RRW) Chairman Stuart Gallacher has echoed the sentiments of the regions, and also spoken of his disappointment in the WRU. The RRW also criticised the WRU for being at fault in the failure to successfully launch the Professional Regional Game Board (PRGB), stating that the regions still all agree to the commitments they made when the proposals were initially drawn up, but the WRU has raised queries which have delayed the process. The PRGB is a proposed independent body whose task it would be to find solutions to issues such as the player exodus from Wales, but has failed to meet since it was proposed, thanks to either the WRU or the regions, depending on which statement you believe.
This discord has breathed fresh life into the concept of an Anglo-Welsh league, as Gallacher and the RRW revealed that they have recently held exploratory talks over this new format with a number of English clubs. It’s debateable whether or not this is a realistic option in the near future, as it would also have to be seen as a lucrative and productive move for the English clubs, whose umbrella organisation, Premiership Rugby, has recently signed a four-year £152 million television deal with BT Sport.
Although the WRU’s frustration at the continuing exodus of Welsh players from the four regions is understandable, the decision to make a public statement such as theirs seems unwise. Far from appeasing the regions, who are themselves frustrated at the lack of help they receive in retaining their players, it has angered them further. A united response from all the regions is expected in the near future, as they take the time to consider the ‘significant comments’ made by the WRU in their public statement.
These political manoeuvrings and ill-thought-out statements have taken the gloss off Wales’ superb demolition of England and their Six Nations crown, and unfortunately they do not look to be ending any time soon. Recent reports suggest that North has now agreed terms with Northampton Saints, and will leave the Scarlets. This will almost certainly escalate the discord between the regions and the WRU, with both sides acting acting the victim of this situation. If North hadn’t agreed terms with Northampton, or the deal yet falls through, things may have been swept under the carpet and friendship renewed for the immediate future, but would this have been best for the long term? As disappointing as losing North will be for both the Scarlets and Wales, could it be the catalyst which ultimately brings the WRU and the regions together, and heralds a brighter future?
After all, things often need to get worse before they can get better.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)