Rugby’s phoney war

With the regions, clubs and unions already bickering over the future of the Heineken Cup, you might be forgiven for thinking they would want to avoid opening up any fresh battle lines.

OK, so the battle over player release for the Autumn internationals is hardly a new one, but it’s a wound which the Welsh Rugby Union seem intent on scratching on an annual basis. This time the tug-of-war is over Wales and British Lions star George North, now making his living with Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership.

Reading through the miles of column inches which have been devoted to this spat over the past few days, it would appear that Northampton are being unreasonable in refusing to release North for the Wales v Australia (sorry, Quantas Wallabies) international match on 30th November.

In reality, Northampton are under no obligation whatsoever to release North for this game, as it falls outside the international window. The WRU know that, as they’ve been there before with Mike Phillips and James Hook in France. The Top 14 clubs, like their English counterparts, are understandably quite keen on their expensive acquisitions sticking to the terms of their contracts.

The reality of the situation is this. The WRU, and also, crucially, the Australian Union, are keen to maximise their revenue. The Aussies are, frankly, almost skint. Roger Lewis wants to ensure the Team Wales cash cow keeps the WRU coffers topped up with “monies.”

For both Wales and Australia, the match comes at the end of a gruelling AI series and Southern Hemisphere season. It’s only there to make money (prices from £40 to £70 per ticket).

So before the WRU start carping about the cynicism of English clubs, they would do well to look at themselves.