Scarlets "astonished" at WRU criticism
April 1, 2013
George North is subject of an offer from Northampton Saints © Getty Images
The simmering tension between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four professional regions has erupted after an astonishing series of exchanges sparked by George North's proposed move to Northampton.
Despite the national side's recent successes, the Welsh regions have struggled to retain their best players due to the spending capabilities of clubs in France and England, as well as financial difficulties of their own.
They and the WRU have attempted to plot the best way of keeping the top domestic talent in Wales, but they appear further away than ever from a solution after a day of undignified mudslinging.
The WRU issued a strongly-worded statement, 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 claim 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.
The WRU also claimed they were prepared to provide the backing to keep North in Wales by tying him to a central contract, only to later discover the regions had an agreement in place not to field any player contracted to the union.
But the Scarlets have rubbished those suggestions and asserted that far from actively seeking to offload North, they have done all they can to retain his services. Their statement 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."
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 the principality. 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 firmly at the door of the regions.
The move to set up the board came in the wake of a critical independent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers into the finances and management of the regions. The WRU said the hold-up was due to the regions altering their interpretation of the agreement to form the PRGB, but Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) - the body which represents the regions - rejected this claim out of hand.
The hostilities broke out just a day after a double-header of derby fixtures between the regions attracted a healthy 36,000 crowd at the Millennium Stadium. It also comes hot on the heels of RRW chief executive Stuart Gallacher admitting exploratory talks had been held over the regions joining the Aviva Premiership, although the chances of such a scenario unfolding are highly unlikely.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures
"Our scrums and lineouts are sometimes not that good but our men are very brave." Ken Borland finds that rugby is on the rise in Senegal
Laurie Fisher talks about the Brumbies and Gloucester, and provides revealing thoughts on the player involvement during the glory days in Canberra