Wales, reigning Six Nations champions and Grand Slam celebrants to boot, are not desperately in need of good news as they move serenely towards this year's tournament, which begins early next month. They received some yesterday nevertheless when the four professional regional teams – Cardiff Blues, Newport Gwent-Dragons, the Swansea-based Ospreys and the Llanelli-based Scarlets – formally ended the scrap over player access that disfigured, and threatened to disrupt, the national side's autumn Test programme.
David Moffett, a former chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union who left the governing body after driving the regionalisation process and now bats for the other side by representing the quartet's umbrella organisation, confirmed that players would be released for the Six Nations in "full compliance" with International Rugby Board regulations.
"I'm sure nobody would want to see a repeat performance of the WRU taking its own regions to court," Moffett said, referring to the union's pursuit of an interm injunction against the four teams ahead of the November programme. "This is why, to cancel out the prospect of any recurrence, the regions are making it crystal clear that they will fully comply with the rules drawn up by the IRB."
Two months ago, the IRB updated their regulations governing player release for Test duty, which have long been a cause of tension between national unions and the club game. The board settled on an eight-day arrangement, under which players would be made available to their countries for five clear days prior to the start of each international window, as well as Monday to Wednesday the previous week. This did not satisfy the Scotland coach Frank Hadden, who has long felt disadvantaged by his problems in clawing back players from the English Premiership, but he is not holding his breath for a better deal. Moffett, well aware that Welsh rugby is going through the same political stresses and strains that affected the game in England until last year's agreement between Twickenham and the Premiership clubs, said he hoped to make further progress in his discussions with the WRU over the coming months. "There is a long way to go, but at least we're talking," he said. "We are very clear on the role of regional rugby in continuing to ensure the success of the national team. The stronger the regions are, the stronger the national game is."
Bristol have parted company with the Irish front-rower Peter Bracken by mutual consent. Bracken joined from Wasps in 2007 on a two-year deal, but failed to make any impact – partly because of shoulder problems and partly because the likes of Darren Crompton and Jason Hobson slammed the first-team door in his face.
"The shoulder injury ruined his first season, and he had two very good props ahead of him in Darren and Jason, plus Wayne Thompson returning from Oxford University," said Bristol's head coach, Richard Hill. "So we decided it was best for both parties to end his contract." Hill indicated that Bracken was on his way to Harlequins.
Another front-row forward, the former England Under-21 hooker Stuart Friswell, has retired through injury at 25. Friswell joined Northampton from Coventry last summer but hurt his neck during a pre-season game with Cardiff Blues in August and has failed to recover full fitness.Reuse content