THE dream of a professional rugby region in North Wales battling it out against top European teams is still alive, according to the author of a damning new book on the state of the game in Wales.

Seimon Williams, whose Welsh Rugby: What Went Wrong? lifts the lid on the game in Wales in the professional era, says the Welsh Rugby Union is still actively considering a northern franchise.

Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground has been suggested as a home base and he says it could be hastened if one of the South Wales regions collapses. The Professional Rugby Board currently favours keeping four professional teams in Wales – if a club in the south falls, their struggles could be an opportunity for the north to write a new chapter in the Welsh game.

Williams’ masterly book charts the tragi-comic progress of the game in Wales from the early 1980s to the present day and he believes the time for a Northern franchise has moved closer with recently announced budget cuts putting the squeeze on the existing Welsh sides.

His own beloved Scarlets are struggling in the United Rugby Championship (URC) with the Dragons just above them while the Ospreys and Cardiff are both in the bottom half of the table.

According to Williams, there have been three occasions when a northern region might have replaced one of the southern franchises.

It could have happened pre-Covid in 2017 with the Gwent-based Dragons struggling and entirely taken over by the union but long before that, the then WRU supremo David Moffett had dropped the bombshell of a northern franchise.

As chief executive of the WRU from 2002 to 2005 Moffett had proposed a North Wales region but Williams said: “This could well have been a shock and awe threat to get the existing regions to face reality but it does make some commercial sense – it’s tapping into a potential new market.

“Then in 2019 the Ospreys seemed to suggest they were prepared to merge with the Scarlets which could have opened the way for a North Wales region but each time the decision-makers have stepped back from the brink.

“But it does seem possible that the current financial state of play around the existing Welsh sides could again open the door for a North Wales region.”

He points across the Celtic Sea to the far west of Ireland where Connacht, a rugby backwater, has been nurtured by the Irish Rugby Football Union until now they have topped the United Rugby Championship this season, are one of four Irish provinces competing in the elite European Champions Cup and regularly produce players for the national team.

They’re currently eighth in the URC, ahead of all four Welsh regions, and their progress could provide a template for North Wales.

Seimon Williams clearly has a deep devotion to the game in Wales but he warns: “For Welsh rugby to survive, let alone thrive, it must break the unhealthy habit of 140 years and unite, at all levels.

“The difficulties of the past year could amount to no more than a pause before Wales disappears as a serious rugby nation. Or it could be the springboard from which we reset and revive.”

His book is a tremendous and thorough telling of Welsh rugby’s collision with the professionalising of the game, it is wonderfully thorough and he has spoken to very many influential and knowledgeable people.

Welsh Rugby: What Went Wrong? by Seimon Williams is published by Y Lolfa, price £9.99