By Alan Dymock
THE NEWS that George North is to leave his homeland to ply his trade in Northampton may cause some hand wringing in Wales, but there is scope to consider another viewpoint. Indeed, there may even be a case for jealousy with regards to Welsh rugby’s civil war.
In Scotland it is customary to meet the loss of any influential players with an expletive or two, with the assertion that solace can be found from the fact such Scots are desirable seen as scant consolation. But in Scotland this can also be seen as an opportunity; a seed from which fresh prospects can grow.
The system in the North is strobile, with any sapling players fighting for the chance to be swept up and whirled to the top, where there are fewer spots to take up. Players like Richie Gray, Duncan Weir and Stuart Hogg can grow, but that is with deliberate individual attention. Below those two lonely pro sides in Edinburgh and Glasgow there are few other places to go.
In Wales it could be argued that any squabble between partially autonomous clubs and their home union is the greatest shame of all. Away from the clear failings of parties to agree on a system to free up funding for the regions and agree centralised contracts, though, what sticks out to a northerner or two is that there is a mismanagement of four wonderful resources.
When a Scottish player leaves home, there is a hole that some starving, driven youngster could fill. He may have waited years. When this happens in Wales, suddenly there is a need to produce a great deal more players. They are forced to try to nurture promise gently but firmly very early on. In a perverse way this is a fantastic state to be in – the country just needs to ensure that the regions can do so with a well-backed position of power rather than from an assumed second tier.
However, is keeping players the greatest concern for Welsh rugby? As someone who has seen representation in Scotland culled to two teams and who has only ever seen a dogfight to secure funding for promise, I would suggest that ensuring the long-term future of four regions is the greatest mission for the establishment.
Of course, that comes with investment. A splash here, an injection there. Suddenly it all grows, pushing out to develop other aspects of an ailing domestic game.
Back to the arguments: Welsh fans are lucky and there is a discussion to be had.
Where there is a forum and well-broadcast grumblings, there is a platform on which to shake across and achieve compromise. In Scotland the two pro sides are held at gunpoint, metaphorically, of course, by their union, forced to relinquish internationals whenever shouted for and unable to dictate budgets or even truly decide the shape of management without some degree of meddling.
This is not to say there is a workhouse movement over Hadrian’s Wall, with players flogged as slop drips grotesquely from their grimacing maws. Things are pretty rosy as is, with chirping, smiling players forgetting the tax demanded by their overlords because, well, the game is on an upward trajectory of sorts.
In Wales, the rude health of the national side masks nothing. And so the picketing begins.
Here’s hoping that compromise can be reached. The regions have been characterised as underdogs and us spectators are baying for their regeneration. We all covet success stories and a Welsh region is due one. However, sympathy can only stretch so far before a hand meets a head with a slap and some outsider has to point out that it is well within the means of the nation to sort all of this out.
As for George North, despite a flurry of activity behind closed doors, he is off for a new challenge in the Shires and only he can say how compliant he has been to that change. If there’s to be any silver lining, it may be that such an episode may force change in the Principality.
Mind you, Scotland do not boast the same embarrassment of riches. The great disaster would be if, in a few years’ time, neither did Wales.