The Llanelli Scarlets have confirmed this week that Wales wing George North will be joining Northampton Saints this summer, 12 months before his contract with the club is due to expire.
The decision comes after weeks of conflict between the WRU and the Welsh regions, which culminated last week in the national governing body accusing Scarlets of trying to ‘cash in’ on one of their key assets by touting North to a French club without his consent.
Scarlets’ head coach Simon Easterby praised North’s handling of the situation, stating, "I suppose he'd been singled out a couple of weeks ago, which isn't ideal with all this dispute that is going on, but he's handling it well.”
Subsequently, the WRU’s invitation to the four regions to meet and discuss the central contracting of players has been unanimously declined.
The row over North and the right to sell his professional contract has been a regular feature in the sport’s headlines and begs the question; if North was being sold to a Welsh counterpart, would the perception from the WRU have been different?
A confirmed figure is yet to have been released, however it is expected that Northampton will have paid at least £200,000 to guarantee North’s early release from his contract.
Despite the club’s best efforts to retain the 20 year old powerhouse, chief executive Mark Davies stated, “We have to fully understand and appreciate that George's quite unique value in the rugby marketplace, possibly inside Wales but certainly outside Wales, is considerably greater than the Scarlets as an independent business can reach.”
North’s representative Christian Abt added, "At the same time, it became very apparent that due to a number of factors beyond our control and with no clear directive on the horizon, keeping George in Wales would prove increasingly difficult over time.”
Easterby expressed the difficulty the club faces, commenting, "you've got to play with the cards you're dealt and I don't think we're the only club or region in Wales that is short of finance compared to others in Europe, and in our league even."
Mike Phillips, James Hook and Gethin Jenkins are all playing their rugby in France, with centre Jamie Roberts and flanker Dan Lydiate expected to join wealthy side Racing Métro this summer and with North following prop Paul James into the Aviva Premiership.
With such a large number of Wales’ starting team now playing abroad, the issues concerning WRU funding are paramount as offers from further afield suddenly become all the more appealing.