George North stars but the bickering continues into Judgement Day
Reluctant transfer target shows Welsh fans what off-field feud could cost them
Sunday 31 March 2013
George North picked the perfect day to show Welsh rugby what it is in danger of losing as he ran in two tries to keep the Scarlets in the hunt for a Pro12 play-off place.
The gathering of the clans for "Judgement Day" at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday turned into an outstanding success, with 36,174 fans turning up to see the inter-region double-header, and the 20-year-old North was the headline act before, during and after.
Stuart Gallacher, the former Scarlets chief executive who heads the Regional Rugby Wales collective, chose the morning of the match to reveal to the world that the Scarlets had little or no alternative but to sell their biggest asset because there simply isn't enough money in the game in Wales to keep him at home. Northampton Saints confirmed earlier in the week they had made an offer to buy North, for a reputed £250,000, and his two tries in the 28-20 win over the Dragons showed why he enjoys almost cult status in Wales.
Judgement Day, a direct copy of the Premiership London Derby day that opens the domestic season in England, had been floated by the Welsh Rugby Union since 2007, yet it took five years before the regions could actually agree to going along with the idea. It captured the imagination of the rugby-mad Welsh public but merely served to underline the suspicions, mistrust and resentment that exist between union and regions.
While Gallacher opened the debate on the state of the regional game in Wales with his comments on the North transfer, the WRU followed with a lengthy statement of its own the day after: "The WRU is aware that the Scarlets opened discussions to transfer the player with clubs outside Wales and the UK late in 2012. George North informed the WRU shortly after the Wales v Ireland RBS Six Nations international on 2 February 2013 that he had then been told of the transfer proposal. George refused to consider France but reluctantly conceded he would be prepared to move if the Scarlets wished."
Once North had left the field, the Ospreys took centre stage and proved they are in no mind to let go of their Pro12 title as they beat the Blues 23-16 to keep alive their hopes of a top four finish. Their win kept them ahead of the Scarlets in fourth place on points difference.
But the real points-scoring appears to be going on off the field between the WRU and the regions. The union's final plea in its statement read: "The WRU urges all four regions to abandon this stance and return to the negotiating table."
What the whole of Wales hopes is that the two sides can put aside petty differences and look to the good of the game as a whole. The fans have proved over the last month at the Millennium Stadium that they want more success on the field and less bickering off it.
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