The 33-times capped Ospreys prop is relishing every moment with the Wales squad in Japan, but he’s also been keeping one eye on his beloved ‘Waun’ and in particular the progress of the youth team he’s been coaching for the past two years.
The Specsavers League One West Central club clearly means the world to Smith and he wants to repay the faith the club showed in him during his younger years. “I can’t say enough about Waun. It’s a great honour to represent the club on the international stage. It’s a fantastic club that I owe so much to and I’m sure Liam Williams would say the same.”
Smith got involved with the club’s youth set-up two years ago and is determined to re-join the other youth coaches Simon Daniel and Andrew Gore on his return to Wales.
“I’ll go straight back into it when I get back. The first year we only had about ten boys involved but we’ve worked on the transition of players from our junior section and we now have good numbers training and playing regularly.
“We aren’t interested in results, we just want to ensure the boys enjoy their rugby and fulfil all our fixtures. If we do that, I’m sure we’ll also attract new players to the youth set-up and continue to grow.
“We’re like a second family at Waunarlwydd and that never leaves you. Even if players go on to play for other clubs, there will always be a welcome at the club to come back and play in the future or just socialise.”
There’s one person in particular Smith is indebted to. Tony Cleary was chosen to announce Nicky in Wales’ RWC squad in the WRU TV video featuring the players’ first clubs. “Tony coached me all the way to senior level and stuck with me despite me not being the best pupil! I’m sure we caused him to lose his hair but it’s down to people like him that I am where I am now.
“Volunteers like Tony don’t ask for anything and yet a number of players have come through our club alone in recent years – the likes of myself, Liam (Williams), Keelan Giles, Scott Otten and Nicky Thomas and it’s down to volunteers like Tony and others who do so much on and off the field. That’s what’s great about Waunarlwydd – they’re growing the game for all. They have a thriving women’s section and the club is always busy, there’s a welcome for everyone.”
There are positive signs for the health of youth rugby in Wales. This season, 153 teams entered the Principality Building Society Youth Leagues, the highest number since 2015. The season has been re-structured with Principality National League fixtures in the first half of the season which has increased the completion rate and competitive nature of those matches, while more flexibility has been introduced into regional competitions in the second half of the season. Under 17 rugby has been encouraged with considerable success noted by some clubs as a way of easing the transition between junior and youth rugby and clubs are currently enjoying a spotlight on youth rugby via an initiative entitled ‘Youth Rugby Rising’ to increase its profile around Wales.
WRU Rugby coordinator Gavin Dacey, who is leading the youth rugby initiatives said, “We want to shine light on youth rugby which is such a vital lynchpin between the junior and senior game. We know that being part of a rugby family has numerous benefits for our physical and mental well-being and that when teams stay together through youth rugby, they are more likely to remain friends and team mates into senior rugby and throughout their lives which not only benefits them but the game too.”
Chris Ower, WRU Participation and Retention manager (male game) added, “These initiatives are part of the Male Game Participation Strategy to broaden its appeal and acknowledge and celebrate our wonderful community game. Youth rugby is an essential transition from the junior game into adult rugby and it’s really pleasing to see the increase in youth teams across Wales thanks to the hard work and dedication of clubs.”
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