Wales cannot allow George North to leave Welsh rugby
The magnitude of George North leaving Welsh rugby, for financial reasons, cannot be overestimated. If he leaves, Welsh rugby has finally admitted defeat and resigned the regional game to second-tier status. Unlike the loss of Mike Phillips and Gethin Jenkins, for example, both of whom are approaching the twilight of their careers, no amount of dressing up will make North’s export to potential suitors Northampton any more palatable. North’s exit shouldn’t be judged purely on the field – his impact extends far beyond that. North is not only one of the first names on the team sheet; he is one of the first names that children want printed on the back of their replica shirts. North is an icon for young rugby supporters in Wales and key to keeping them supporting and playing the game. North is potentially a once in a generation player and that generation deserve and need to see him play this side of the Severn Bridge
Cory Allen is a ready-made replacement for Jamie Roberts
Some rugby fans may not be too au fait with Cory Allen. The 6ft 4in centre’s appearances for the Cardiff Blues have been limited. Next season, however, that is surely about to change. Allen’s performances for Wales’ Under 20’s have been sound – but his performances in March’s IRB Hong Kong Sevens were on another level. Allen may be built like a modern crash-bang 12, but he has the lateral movement and handling of a ball-playing three-quarter. Allen’s one-handed dummy in the final against Fiji was sublime and the resultant touchdown was voted try of the tournament. Cardiff Blues have recently been searching for a suitable replacement for Jamie Roberts, it may be that the long term replacement is already under their noses.
The Ides of March
March 2013 should be remembered as a triumphant period in Welsh rugby. March saw Wales win their fourth Six Nations Championship in nine seasons. March saw Wales deliver their most comprehensive performance in the modern era and complete a run of five games with an incredible average tackle completion of 92.6%. March saw the four regions come together for Judgement Day at the Millennium Stadium in front of 36,000-plus fans for the first time. It also saw Wales’ Sevens squad reach their first IRB Sevens Cup final and the Lions selection pendulum swing irrefutably towards the men in red. However, for many, March may not be remembered for the achievements of Welsh rugby. Attention will once again be drawn to its failings and the collapse of relations between the regions and the WRU. It’s a real mess that is as sad as it is predictable.
Professional game deserves professional administration
Rugby officially turned professional in Wales in 1995. However, the administration of the game is still, at times, alarmingly amateur – from all of the parties concerned. It’s incomprehensible that after 18 years of professional rugby Wales still doesn’t have a structure that works across domestic and international rugby. Relations between the WRU, Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) and the individual regions have descended to an embarrassing level. The respective bodies are unable to sit around the same table and the Professional Rugby Game Board (PRGB), set up to resolve such issues, is essentially defunct after just one fleeting meeting. The unedifying press releases of the past few days are embarrassing for Welsh rugby as a sport and the nation as a whole. Rugby is our national game and must be run with a certain level of professionalism and decorum. That’s why boardrooms have doors – keep them shut and get it sorted.
Money is the only solution
There are myriad reasons touted for the failure of regional rugby – low attendance figures, issues with player release, and a lack of supporters identifying with the regions. However all of these issues can be solved with money. Money, from whatever source, props up the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership – Welsh rugby is no different. Money nurtures academies and attracts talented players. Talented players attract supporters and silverware. Silverware attracts sponsors. And so it continues. The issue of regional identity would arguably disappear if a Welsh region won back-to-back Heineken Cups – how many Manchester United fans identify with their club despite living hundreds of miles away? The solution seems obvious. Currently the WRU’s net profits aren’t big enough to maintain a core of 12-15 players in Wales – even before tax it would only maintain ten players on a salary of £240,000. Therefore the ‘fastracked’ payments on the Millennium stadium, previously designed to free the WRU from debt by 2021, need to be redrawn and reduced. The excess cash can then pumped directly into the regions or centrally controlled by the union. Whilst the rationale for paying off the debt is laudable and understandable, having a debt-free stadium in which you will have no product to showcase in years to come is at best, shortsighted, at worst, foolhardy.