The George North saga rumbles on

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)

33 thoughts on “The George North saga rumbles on

  1. What would Wales leaving the Pro12 do to the Irish, Scottish and Italian teams? You can’t have a league of 8 teams surely?

    1. That is a good point actually! More Italian teams?

      Maybe a Georgian team?

      Also, would the English/ Welsh league be 16 teams? Or would some of the premiership teams make way?

      1. based on results between the home nation club sides i think it should be top 6 from pro 12 and top 9 from aviva

        expand the english championship and create a better divisional structure for below the top level.

    2. I’d feel sorry for the Scottish and Italians as they depend on it but the Irish teams have for a long time made everyone else feel like they were lucky to have the Irish teams in there. The Irish held out the longest on the decision to make it true home and away, they don’t field their strongest sides for most of the season (yet still win, so credit to them) and openly dismiss the league as 2nd rate. So with all of that they must surely feel they don’t need it so must have a better plan elsewhere.

      1. “Dismiss the league as 2nd rate” ???
        How do they do that exactly?
        Did you see the Leinster v Ulster match last weekend? Neither side could be accused of not fielding their strongest side, both teams threw the kitchen sink at each other, the last 10 minutes were compelling as Ulster just hung on for the win.
        Leinster have publicly said that they want to win the Pro12 this year. the only time they field a weakened side is when their top players are off playing for Ireland. All the Irish teams are totally committed to the Pro12.

    3. Your talking about a statement by SG, no one takes him seriously in Wales, a joint league will never happen – not in the forseable future anyhow

  2. they need to work together with the pro 12 to combine with the aviva, minus the italian teams that should join the french league which they would obviously prefer.

    the best 15 teams from pro12/aviva combination could make the new league that would likely attract more sponsors and tv revenue for all of the home nations.

    the ridiculous notion that north playing in england or wales is bad for the wru is pathetic, its not as if he is going to france or australia! the aims to keep welsh players in wales is very backward thinking

    1. Really – you want your best players playing in your own country for supporters, crowds and financial reward. Would not want – like England and France being a supporter watching a Team with 50% foriegn players – where u have gone wrong in all your sports in England. And backward thinking look where Wales are compared to England currently as a national Team.

  3. Its not new is it players have left Wales before, Hook, Phillips, Byrne, Jenkins, this summer Roberts and Lydiate.

    How is George going a bigger deal? Did not see WRU jumping up and down to help keep the others in Wales.

    Also if they wanted to help keep him in Wales why to Cardiff why not help Scarlets keep him

    Its not as simple as setting up central contracts as the WRU will have control then of who plays where and dismantle teams as they stand

    WRU want two super regions one east based in Cardiff one west based in PYS and full control. This will mean the death of rugby in Wales

    I think the picture of Assey pushing away Pickering after the England game and Adam and Gethin speaking out says it all about how the players feel about the WRU

  4. I think it is bad for Welsh rugby – we only have to look at Welsh football for the damage having a 2nd rate league will do to your international sides. It also makes it harder to attract the youngsters to the sport because there is no reasonable domestic scene for them to follow.

    Wales success comes from their ability to operate almost like a club side – training together, being together for long periods. It’s no accident that we got better as the 6N went on once Gethin, Phillips, etc. got back into the swing of things. More players that we cannot get into the training camps will hamper us.

    1. combining the home nations (england, wales, scotland and ireland) will only make for a better league and encourage big investment into club rugby meaning some sides (obviously not all) will be able to prevent star names from leaving the home nations for the big money moves to france.

      a welsh player playing in england, ireland, scotland or any other vice versa situation does not affect the player or teams ability to attend training camps or neither does it disrupt the national teams preparations.

      if they can get this in place for the 2014/2015 season when all current tv and sponsorship deals end it’d be great for all the home nations preparation for the rwc 2015.

      1. “a welsh player playing in england, ireland, scotland or any other vice versa situation does not affect the player or teams ability to attend training camps or neither does it disrupt the national teams preparations. ”

        Umm, that is completely wrong and seems and odd thing to say given all of the things that have happened this season with arguments of player release from clubs for training.

        The regions have an agreement with the WRU that guarantees the Welsh players are released to the national side up to 2 weeks before the 6N and not released during it.

        The French based players were only released 1 week before and also had to be released back to the French sides (and played games) during the fallow weekends of the 6N.

        Howley (and it was obvious to everyone watching) singled out this as a factor in Gethin’s lack of fitness at the start of the 6N.

        In addition Welsh players playing in Wales meet during the season for interim camps – the French/English based players are not released by their clubs for this.

        It is a fact that Welsh players outside Wales do not spend as much time training with Wales as the coaches want – so to say it doesn’t affect preparations is odd. The distance is irrelevant – it’s the release agreements that matter.

        1. brighty, i get the impression that face_andy was saying that IF all the home nation teams played in a single comp and they clubs agreed to release the players then it would work nicely.

          he is saying that it COULD be a good system. he is not saying that that is how things are now…

          1. Possibly, but he says “does not affect” rather than “should not or could not affect” so I assumed he was incorrectly assessing the status quo.

          2. he does then go on and say “if they can get this in place” so i would assume that he has created a hypothetical situation and has explained said situation to us as though it were real and the case.

            but i see where you are coming from too.

            all in all its a big mess. i just dont understand how any of these unions are so clueless and let themselves get in such a mess in the first place.

      2. Face Andy – your obviously a corporate rugby club fan and not for the good of rugby and your national side – you are entitled to your view but personally everything i hate about rugby

  5. I actually think playing at the saints will develop north into a better attacking weapon than he already is. Alex king arrives from clermont in the summer as does khan fortuali’i from ospreys. Clermont play beautiful rugby and khan is probably the best scrum half in world rugby, sheer class. Plus George Pisi, Dom Waldock, Ben foden it’s not like he’s going to be team mates with second rate players. North is always at his best behind a dominant pack and the saint certainly have that, corbisiero arriving from Irish next season to fill the void left by tongahuia. It’s exciting times at Northampton. Welsh fans shouldn’t complain. Not until the regions and the WRU finally pull their heads out their backsides and see how they’re destroying the welsh game. Rugby fans tend to enjoy watching the exciting players coming out of Wales as well. So sort it it for everyone and especially the welsh fans.

    1. Possibly – but Gethin playing at Toulon, a team of supposed quality, definitely made him a worse player.

      The issue isn’t whether George will be playing with decent players it is whether he will be playing for the good of Welsh rugby – he is at he Scarlets, he won’t be at Northampton.

      Northampton could happily flog him to death, play him out of position, play ten man rugby, change his training regime to concentrate more on bulk, not pick him, etc. These are the concerns as well as the lack of release for Wales training.

      1. I think it is a bit different. Jenkins isn’t playing because Sheridan is. There is not better winger than North at Saints so less of an issue.

        Also, Saints hardly play 10 man rugby so again no issue.

        The main issue for Jenkins is that French based players are made to do fitness as part of the team, they are expected to do it in their own time. Reports suggest that Jenkins (particularly in his first few months) just did’t bother with any fitness work outside of training.

        It is a very different situation at Saints so hardly comparable.

        1. Jacob, the concern isn’t that we know these things will happen, it is that they might. Nobody knows what may happen at Saints in 1 year, 2 years, etc. The shaming that Leics handed out might convince them to change their approach for example? It might not but it’s the lack of control that means it’s not good for Wales.

          When Wales players are in Welsh regions the participation agreement means that Wales have a lot of control over the players – how they train, how they eat, how they play and when. We lose this control when they go overseas so anything could happen. So it does matter. It could all go excellently for George at Saints – but it might not and we have no control over it.

          1. Yeh I do see your point there. It is preferable for any nation to have their players playing in their own country.

            NZ do it; I think only Carter has ever been allowed to play for the All Blacks and outside of NZ. Lancaster has also insisted on it with England, and whilst many were calling for Armitage for come in; long term is is probably a very good call.

            Was there an opportunity for Wales to say that when the exodus began? Or did it all happen to quickly? And would the Welsh players care? It is very difficult.

          2. there is no good time to say “we wont pick you if you dont play domestically” so the WRU just need to bite the bullet and do it.

            its amazing how much you learn about a player when this is the choice on the table.

            Steffon Armitage has been quoted numerous times saying “i will do anything to play for england” and yet he is still playing in france… clearly the big pay cheque and nice lifestyle is more important than actually playing for england.

            if the WRU hurry up and announce it, then the ball will be in North’s court. either turn your back on your country, or stay in wales. the likes of Roberts and Lydiate will head home ASAP and anyone else who still has wales ambitions will come home too.

            the Aussies have this policy too. as do NZ. I think Carter was actually on a sabbatical while in France, and so wouldnt have played for the ABs (but he got injured, so it didnt matter anyway). the NZRU offered Carl Hayman a farm to come back for the 2011 RWC, but he declined, so they didnt pick him.

            A domestic only policy is the best, as it means that not only can the national union request players play in certain positions (ie the RFU asked quins to play robshaw at 7), but they also get more access to the players.

          3. Simo, I don’t think we would see those players return. Playing for Wales is amazing but look at Lydiate for example – ~200K to stay in Wales, possibly extra 50-75K if Wales do well. Or the mad money of 400-500K in France.

            How much would you love playing for your country if, during a 10 year career, you could make an extra 600K or even 1M outside of Wales but be told you could then not play for Wales? 600K when you’ve got a family, not much job experience outside rugby, etc.

            I honestly don’t know how NZ and AUS manage to stick with the policy.

    2. I don’t think he will ever see the ball at the saints as they are lacking a 10 and 12 so little ball feed to the wings, maybe by next season it will change

  6. Ask any schoolkid in Wales about their favourite player and 9 times out of 10 it’s George North . If we have any pretensions for Rugby to remain the national sport then we have to hold on to these players .

    There is a major difference too between a 30 year old player with 10 years of internationals behind him leaving to get a couple of years of bumper payments to fill up his pension pot and a 20 year old at the start of his career doing the same thing . This is not a pop at North as who can blame him but expecting the WRU with it’s old rugby committee menatality to do anything quick and proactive is just not going to happen .

    The WRU threw away the chance for multiple Welsh Club participation in an Anglo/Welsh league at the start of professionalism as well as mucking up the opportunity for central contracting. North has played more times for Wales than the Scarlets and his wages should lie with the body that has the ultimate call on him . If the Union decide to schedule an extra Autumn International which alwats seems to hamper Heineken Cup preparations for the regions then no wonder those in charge at the Scarlets etc get annoyed when it is their jobs that are on the line.

    What is most depressing is that this political infighting always rears it’s head with those involved seeming more concerned about defending their territories than sorting it out for what is a small country that needs to harness all resources.

    1. Technically Wales do have a “pick Wales based players” rule but by necessity it is a pretty rubbish one – if two guys of equal ability are available then we pick the Welsh based guy. But we do not have enough resources to be able to do that. So we need to sort out a model that will work and right now we don’t even know what it is.

      Comparisons with Ireland are not really valid as they have a lot more money – bigger population, less competition from other pro sports, so more money from sponsors which enables the IRFU to target money where needed. There is also the excellent (or unfair, depending on point of view) tax break for sports stars who stay in Ireland for a certain amount of years.

      Agree with Ponty Lad that it was so depressing to see the WRU and Regions slagging each other off in the media. The two sides are so far apart that I cannot see any solution in the next few years.

  7. Whilst the national team continues to do well the WRU will continue to see the problem as a predominantly regional one. First it was greedy agents, now it is greedy regions cashing in. Get out of victim mode and take some action!

  8. “I honestly don’t know how NZ and AUS manage to stick with the policy.”

    because they are so far away from europe, the lure of a move across to australia or new zealand to the other must be a problem, but rugby is totally different down there, hence the success of southern hemi teams

  9. I think that in general the celtic nations are better working together and maintaining the current pro 12 is the correct approach. The Irish provinces have an advantage because the have a traditonal support base anyway and had a rivalry built up long before the game went pro, In fact a strong pro 12 that can attract the top name players is the way to go i feel rather than preventing their entry in to the league. Perhaps a short winter break might be also advisable with an august start date, more fine weather rugby. We will probably in due course see a pan-european league with all the top teams playing in it and this may even replace the hein -cup but the welsh would be sensible to stay put for now.

  10. Whilst improvements can clearly be made in the competitive structure at club/regional level this is a bit of a red herring in the current dispute. I would ask the question: In terms of the core purpose of developing winning teams playing attractive rugby and making a few bob along the way, who has the better track record, the WRU or the regions?
    The Price Waterhouse report alluded to ‘self inflicted wounds’ when analysing the regions’ conduct of their businesses. The sooner welsh rugby is in the hands of professionals the better.

    1. professionalism in all rugby has a long way to go, club rugby in wales is one step behind england due to the changes made when they went to regions. they’ll catch up, but only if they integrate with a home nations premiership setup. that way all home nation federations can work together to ensure players are released at the right time for internationals and attempt to keep everybody happier.

      sponsorship and tv income would be huge, this needs to be done in time for 2014/2015

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