Aviva Premiership
North completes switch to Saints
ESPN Staff
April 9, 2013
Wales' George North celebrates his side's victory, Ireland v Wales, Six Nations, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland, February 5, 2012
George North will swap the PRO12 for the Premiership next season © Getty Images

Wales' regional rugby receives a hammer blow

  • Northampton Saints' signing of George North is a harpoon to the heart of Welsh rugby.
  • Wales have already seen British & Irish Lions leave for cross-Channel comforts in the past few years. But they had already put down their marker on the Celtic scene, and learnt their craft in the regional system. North leaves having barely settled.
  • The 20-year-old winger is box office as shown through his Test-winning try against France during the 2013 Six Nations - a piece of brutal strength which was a key cog in their Six Nations-clinching campaign.
  • But now supporters of the Scarlets will have to tune into the Aviva Premiership to see their darling but you cannot blame North for moving. The WRU's panicked reaction to North's proposed switch to the Saints suggested that the four regions and the organisational body are currently poles apart. They must start singing off the same hymn sheet or others heads will start twitching and looking to foreign fields, with England now offering a closer-to-home alternative to France.
  • His transfer sees him dip his toe in the water but if it goes well then expect others to dive in. This view is mere speculation, but the fact that North has chosen to leave his hometown club, where his form has seen him achieve his international dreams and surely British & Irish Lions recognition, suggests that all is not well in the Welsh regional system.
  • Tom Hamilton

Northampton have confirmed Wales international winger George North will join the Premiership club from PRO12 side Scarlets on a three-year deal next season.

North has a year to run on his current contract with the Welsh region but an agreement has been reached "between all parties" to enable the 20-year-old leave Parc Y Scarlets this summer. The signing of one of the world's most lethal finishers is a huge coup for Saints boss Jim Mallinder - who has already signed England prop Alex Corbisiero and Samoa scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i ahead of next season - and a fresh body blow to Welsh rugby with a host of the country's leading players having already opted to turn their back on the regional game.

North played a key role in Wales' 2012 and 2013 Six Nations triumphs with the news of his high-profile switch likely to have widespread ramifications within the Welsh domestic set-up. Initial rumours of Northampton's interest in North prompted the Welsh Rugby Union and the Scarlets to engage in a very public war of words regarding the winger's future. The WRU accused the Scarlets of trying to cash in on the last year of North's contract by touting him to French clubs without his knowledge.

This claim was denied by the Scarlets who insists they had to consider such a significant offer with chief executive Mark Davies also revealing they made a counter offer but were not able to reach an agreement despite North's apparent desire to stay within the Welsh system.

Davies has conceded they are "massively disappointed" to be losing a player of North's quality and has also admitted the public attention regarding the winger's transfer has been hard. Davies said: "Despite our desire to retain all our internationals within the region, we have to balance our available resource over the need to sustain a 50-deep player squad that can continue to compete during international periods.

"Taking that into account, we made George the very best offer we could. However, 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."

He added: "We firmly believe that this situation illustrates that our policy of privacy for individuals is the correct and proper position for our business to take at all times. We fully respect the right of any individual to ensure they pursue the very best opportunities available to them and now that a final decision has been reached, we sincerely hope George will be allowed to get on and enjoy the rest of his season with the Scarlets."

Christian Abt, North's representative said: "Once we'd been informed by the Scarlets that a club outside the UK had made a significant approach, which the Scarlets had to consider, we focused on ways to keep George at the Scarlets, or within Wales.

"Given our initial intention to complete the existing contract, the Scarlets made the best offer they could for an extended agreement, but unfortunately, having taken into account every aspect involved in such an important decision, we were unable to agree terms."

The Scarlets and the Saints have not mentioned whether a transfer fee has been exchanged but Northampton coach Mallinder has hailed the coup. He said: "George is an outstanding talent and we're looking forward to him being a part of our squad for at least the next three years.

"Despite still being at the start of his career he has shown repeatedly that he has the ability and temperament to succeed at the highest level of the game, and we believe that he will play a big role as we look to take the next steps in our development. We're delighted that George has decided to come to Franklin's Gardens."

Saints chief executive Allan Robson believes the deal to bring North to Franklin's Gardens reflects the club's ambition to succeed at the highest level. "We have worked very hard over recent years to put Saints into a strong and sustainable financial position where we can build a squad that includes world class players and has credible prospects for silverware," he said.

"We're determined to bring success to Franklin's Gardens and signing players like George, Kahn Fotuali'i and Alex Corbisiero - all of whom are regarded as being among the best in their positions anywhere in the game - is a very important part of that. Over recent weeks there have been plenty of negotiations between ourselves, the Scarlets management and George's representatives and we believe that we have come to an agreement which is in the best interests of both clubs and the player himself."

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