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WRU Status Update: CEO hails ‘green shoots’

WRU Status Update: CEO hails ‘green shoots’

CEO Steve Phillips welcomes the return of rugby for adults at community level and discusses the prospect of full-houses and the clamour for tickets at Principality Stadium in the autumn … plus remembering John Dawes, an award winning WRU department, a Nantyglo stalwart and much more in the latest WRU Status Update:

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There are green shoots wherever we look in Welsh rugby at the moment.

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The return of the adult game this week, a month after community rugby activities resumed for U18s around Wales, is hugely welcome and for this news to coincide with the release of tickets for a new Autumn Nations Series schedule at Principality Stadium is tonic for all.

We are hoping for four full-houses in Cardiff as New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji and Australia visit on consecutive weekends this autumn. There is no hiding away from the fact that this is an optimistic approach and, to be clear, the Welsh Government are well aware of our ambitions. It is our intention to follow guidelines meticulously and we have full trust and faith in the approach that is being taken to safeguard the nation’s health – but we have hope.

And, it appears, our loyal supporters share these sentiments with tickets in great demand from member clubs. A clear refund policy, frozen ticket prices and a new initiative, which sees concessionary tickets for U17s available at reduced rates for all categories of seating at all matches – for the first time – has surely helped.

But it is also heart-warming to know the clamour to return to rugby is not and will not be limited to these international showpiece matches. Participation in the community game is strong, with junior players thirsty to return to outdoor activity and it will get stronger as further restrictions are lifted in accordance with our published Pathway to Participation. We will know more about the adult game in the weeks to come but players at all levels of the community game in Wales will be able to start to re-introduce a level of contact training from 1 May, which is very welcome news.

Many congratulations to the Wales Women’s side for their obvious efforts and dedication to representing their country during a hard fought Six Nations tournament. As we always do and as you would expect, we will now take time to check in on progress against our plan and strategy for the Women’s game, as we do with all our teams after campaigns. It has been a difficult year for all due to the pandemic but I would like to reiterate that Women’s rugby is a key strategic priority for the Welsh Rugby Union and we will not waiver from our commitment to invest in its future.

On this subject, we are making significant strides on the recruitment process to appoint a new executive board member to take on responsibility for the performance end of our national game. Lockdown, due to the pandemic, has meant that this position has been vacant for an extended period, but we have used this time to revisit and examine our requirements in this area and we are expecting positive news in the coming weeks.

Finally, our men’s internationals will defend their Guinness Six Nations title in 2022 with three home matches at Principality Stadium in fixtures which have been announced this afternoon. We will all very much look forward to this campaign but there will also be much rugby for us to enjoy before we get to that stage.

Our national captain, the irrepressible Alun Wyn Jones, shows no sign of dropping below anything other than the very highest of standards and I would like to record my personal congratulations to him after extending his contract with which will see him remain in Wales as we build towards RWC 2023.

Our four regional sides are currently featuring in the Rainbow Cup and, although the start of this fledgling competition has been hampered by Covid-19 restrictions, we were treated to two high standard Welsh derbies last weekend and there is plenty more to come from our professional teams.

With a British & Irish Lions squad announcement just around the corner there is extra tension in the air each time a Welsh player with potential Lions credentials takes to the field and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Wales coaching and backroom staff who have been asked to join the tour already.

Our regional teams are a vitally important part of Welsh rugby and they will be integral to our recovery after this pandemic. This is why I don’t mind repeating my commitment to seeking to refinance the current CLBILS loan and there are active conversations with Welsh Government on this issue. It is important from a debt support perspective that our four pro-sides are on a level playing field with their English competition. We must continue to get the economics right in the professional game and we can only achieve this together. It is only through unity and togetherness that we will grow strong again and achieve our full potential at international and regional level and from a participation perspective at community level.

Green shoots are a welcome sight, but we will not shirk our responsibility to nurture each one and give due care and consideration to all areas of our great game in Wales.

Yours in rugby,

Steve Phillips
WRU Group CEO

President pays tribute to John Dawes

John Dawes was one of the greatest of rugby men, as a player, coach and especially, I believe, as an outstanding captain of a team. In each of these roles he accomplished a great deal.
He had an all embracing and wonderfully perceptive vision of rugby, producing in the late 60s and early 70s a version of rugby which broke the mould of what up to that moment was acceptable in the playing of the game. As a result the word ‘expansive’ entered rugby’s lexicon to describe the kind of game he imagined and put into practice, first of all with like- minded people at London Welsh at Old Deer Park.
As captain his style was one of encouragement and persuasion, cajoling players to be at their best, and no finger-wagging authoritarian sergeant major.
He also had the essential quality as captain that whilst involved in the intense competition of the contest, he could, like a drone, rise up above the hustle and bustle and have an overview of the ebb and flow of the match and to guide his team accordingly; of the game but also above it.
It was for me a privilege to have been in the company of a truly great rugby man and to have played with his scintillating style of rugby.
Our sympathy goes out to his family.

Gerald Davies
WRU President

John Dawes, sadly passed away earlier this month at the age of 80.
The former wales coach Wales won four successive Triple Crowns and two Grand Slams at the helm and also coached the Lions in New Zealand in 1977, when they beat every provincial team, and won one of the four Tests.
As a player he transformed British rugby with his attacking philosophy and masterminded the plan that helped to carry Wales to a Grand Slam and the Lions to their ground-breaking series win in New Zealand in 1971.
His death has come a few months short of the 50th anniversary of the Lions’ historic victory in New Zealand:
(more from Gerald Davies here: )

Adult rugby returns

After the latest Welsh Government announcement rugby activity for adults was able to resume from Monday 26 April.
Community rugby activities resumed for U18s on March 27 and now, following the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, adults around Wales are able to return to organised training sessions (groups of up to 30), if clubs feel they can provide a safe environment for all concerned and ensure all the necessary protocols are respected.
While U18s can now play tag and touch matches against other clubs, in line with the WRU’s Pathway to Participation, adults have returned to the same stage of the Return to Rugby plan as just before and after the Firebreak lockdown in the autumn.
As before, the priority will be on skills and fitness-based activities with touch rugby introduced towards the end of the sessions. Providing the public health conditions remain favourable, players at all levels of the community game in Wales will be able to start to re-introduce a level of contact training from 1 May.
Clubs are reminded of the protocols that all players, coaches and volunteers must adhere to prior to attending training sessions, during the sessions themselves and afterwards.
A webinar will take place on Thursday after which more information will be provided to clubs, including detailed session plans to assist coaches with the gradual return to contact training.

More here

 

Community payback helps clubs to be ‘Pitch Ready’

Five South Wales clubs have engaged in a pilot scheme with Wales Probation Services which will have mutual benefits for both the clubs and the Probation’s Community Payback team.

As clubs continue to welcome players back to their grounds, WRU Pitch Ready will see individuals from Wales Probation Services’ Community Payback work alongside the local clubs to help get the grounds ‘match-ready’, carrying out tasks such as essential maintenance, pitch-marking and repair work.

The Principality Stadium’s pitch team have already provided expertise on all matters relating to pitch maintenance to the clubs and the Community Payback team supervisors in order to ‘hit the ground running’ when the scheme starts next week.

WRU Community Director Geraint John said, “This is an exciting project with a number of mutual benefits. Following 13 months of lockdowns, many of our clubs are in need of additional pairs of hands to get their pitches and clubhouses in working order and with the prospect of matches around the corner, there will be weekly tasks to carry out. Thanks to our pitch experts at Principality Stadium, the Community Payback team will gain practical skills and knowledge across a number of areas and carry out meaningful roles for the benefit of their local community.”

Sixty clubs from across Wales signed up for the scheme initially but lockdown has curtailed the roll out nationally. We will re-engage with these clubs following evaluation of the pilot.
The scheme originated from the feedback we received during the District Workshops undertaken to support the new Community Strategy particularly addressing the quality of grass pitches and reducing some of the demands on volunteers.
Another key benefit of the scheme will be the future employability prospects of participants and additional accredited training opportunities that we can deliver in conjunction with the Wales Probation Services.
The financial support for the scheme was made available from Sport Wales’ Place for Sport Fund to purchase items of specialist grounds maintenance equipment to deliver the service at the clubs.

Autumn Nations Series fixtures revealed

Following a stunning Guinness Six Nations campaign, Wayne Pivac’s championship winners are set to take on current world champions South Africa, fellow southern hemisphere heavyweights New Zealand and Australia and flamboyant Fiji in this year’s Autumn Nations Series at Principality Stadium.
The mighty All Blacks, making their first visit to Cardiff since 2017, kick off the series on Saturday 30th October and will offer Pivac’s squad a stern test as Wales seek a first win in the fixture since 1953.
There will be no respite as the Springboks make a welcome return to Cardiff a week later and Fiji bring their exciting brand of rugby next, on Sunday 14th November, before the Wallabies visit on the climactic weekend of the series.
Wales head coach Pivac said, “There is no doubt this is a huge autumn series fixture list and we are already looking forward to it, especially with the prospect of having supporters back at Principality Stadium.”
Prices have been frozen which means supporters can watch New Zealand for the same prices paid in 2017 (£40/ £60 / £75 / £85 and £95, with half price concessions now available in all categories*).
Tickets for South Africa and Australia, who last played in Cardiff in 2018, start from £25 and for Fiji, tickets start at £10.
*For the first time the WRU has introduced a 50% U17 concession for Autumn Nations Series 2021 across all ticket categories for all matches, meaning many thousands more will be available and young fans and families can enjoy the game together from anywhere in the stadium – including the Alcohol Free Zone (AFZ) which will be in operation.
Whilst the future may remain uncertain there is a confidence the Autumn Nations Series 2021 will see the return of supporters to Principality Stadium.
Tickets are on sale to member clubs now, with a robust refund strategy in place enabling purchasers to buy with confidence.
More info here: 

WRU wins Disability Sport Wales award

Congratulations to everyone in Welsh rugby who contributed to us winning insport Organisation of the Year award at the recent Disability Sport Wales digital awards.
Since publishing our first Disability Rugby strategy in 2018, we have achieved bronze and silver insport standard and are working towards the gold award.
With Darren Carew leading the implementation of the strategy within Greg Woods’ Rugby Entreprise department, there are now opportunities to engage in a number of inclusive formats of the game throughout Wales.
There are inclusive community clubs for young people along with mixed ability teams for adults in every rugby region, more wheelchair rugby and Walking Rugby teams and we are working closely with key partners including Wales Deaf, Disability Sport Wales, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and the four Regions to continue to make rugby a game for everyone. We are also looking to widen the range of opportunities further in areas such as Visually Impaired rugby.
WRU Community Director Geraint John said: “We are very proud of the progress our staff, volunteers and the whole of Welsh community rugby has made in becoming more inclusive, and we were very humbled to win the award given the outstanding candidates showcased during the online ceremony. As our national sport, it’s vital there is a place in Welsh rugby for everyone and we will continue to work hard to ensure we are as inclusive as possible as we come out of the pandemic.”
Greg Woods, WRU rugby enterprise manager, added:
“Lots of people have the perception that it (rugby) is fifteen men in a park at half past two on a Saturday afternoon in a muddy field, but it’s much more than that.
“It’s around making it a game for everyone. We have a saying that there’s a jersey for everyone and we want to create that and sometimes that’s hard to do, but what we have done over this period of time is increase our formats and increase the level of support and guidance that we give to our coaches and volunteers to make that happen.”
Learn more here:

Rugby news:

50 YEARS AND COUNTING FOR NANTYGLO HERO O’DOWD
Stalwart is a word that is often used in Welsh rugby. Hero might be better, although it doesn’t quite give the right ring of commitment, diligence and dedication.
Up and down the country, there are individuals at the hearts of rugby clubs, not just keeping them alive but helping them thrive.
Throughout Wales there are men and women like Mike O’Dowd whose services to the game can go unrecognised or taken for granted but without whom… well let’s just say their presence is existential.
Mike started playing for Nantyglo RFC in 1968. He mainly played prop or second row and featured in over 500 games for the club.
In 1970 he was elected as Treasurer and has been ever present in the role ever since.
He was instrumental in building the Clubhouse in 1980 and still runs the line, although Hon Secretary Helen Jones explains he is not as quick as he used to be!
“It’s more of a fast walk these days due to a hip problem,” jokes Jones.
“Mike is renowned for watching the pennies and is largely responsible for the position the club is in today.
“He has been an outstanding contributor to grassroots rugby and the role of the club in the wider community.
“And we would also like to recognise the role of his wife, Christine, who has supported Mike and the club for the last 50 years.”
Whatever the right word to describe Mike, Christine and kindred spirits throughout the game, Welsh rugby is proud of you all.

SUN SHINES ON PENTYRCH
There will be more reasons for the treasurer at Pentyrch RFC to smile when the sun shines this summer.
As well as facilitating a return to training and playing for the many rugby teams at the club, and the Pentyrch Rangers soccer sides and Pentrych cricket XIs, it will also help the two new additions to the clubhouse raise more money.
The East District rugby club haven’t been resting on their laurels during lockdown and have marked a return to outdoor drinking across Wales by building an extra hospitality area alongside the main entrance to their clubhouse.
This £16,000 structure will not only improve the provision for members to enjoy themselves on sunny days, but will also provide shelter during the winter months for the Mums and Dads who turn up for training and matches when the weather isn’t so kind.
On top of all of this the club have also installed solar panels on the clubhouse roof to reduce their bills. The money saved will be used to invest in walking rugby groups for both male and female players.
Find out how here:

EVANS AND JONES HEAD TO OLYMPICS

Welsh referees Craig Evans and Adam Jones are keeping their fingers crossed that the prolonged and agonising wait for Olympic Games selection will be worth its weight in gold when they head for Tokyo to take part in the postponed Games of the XXXII Olympiad in July.
Four arduous years of preparation towards last year’s Olympics were put in jeopardy for the world’s top athletes in March when the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world ensured the world’s biggest sporting jamboree was put on hold.
Earlier this month, and with less than 100 days to the rescheduled Games, World Rugby confirmed their referee appointments and the Welsh duo breathed a huge sigh of relief when their names were revealed.
More here: 

WALES WOMEN RESET
Head coach Warren Abrahams was proud of the fight and flair shown by his side as they signed off the 2021 Women’s Six Nations with a battling defeat in Scotland.
Despite being beaten 27-20 at Scotstoun, Wales fought until the final whistle and scored a pair of well-worked tries from Lisa Neumann and Caitlin Lewis to finish their campaign on a positive note.
And head coach Abrahams reckons there is cause for optimism after watching his side deliver a much improved performance.
Abrahams and his staff now have time to dissect the Women’s Six Nations campaign before looking ahead at next year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
More here:
Also… there were plenty of happy faces at Gowerton when Wales Women’s captain Siwan Lillicrap visited to see rugby back up and running for the West Swansea Hawks.
Video

RYAN’S DELIGHT
Dean Ryan was delighted with the attacking threat posed by his Dragons side after they put 50 points on the Scarlets to start their Rainbow Cup campaign with a bang.
The men from Rodney Parade ran in seven tries against their Llanelli-based opponents with Wales squad members Jonah Holmes and Aaron Wainwright both scoring twice.
Jordan Williams, Rio Dyer and Aneurin Owen were all on the scoreboard too as the Dragons racked up a 52-32 success

DAI BACKS BLUES PAIR
Dai Young hopes Cardiff Blues pair Ellis Jenkins and Jarrod Evans will get the chance to make an impression with Wales this summer.
Cardiff director of rugby Young believes his players might get a chance to play international rugby.
Fly-half Evans was a part of Wales’ 2021 Guinness Six Nations-winning squad although he did not play.
The former Pontypridd man has also just signed a new Cardiff contract.

TIPURIC HAILS JONES
Justin Tipuric joked Alun Wyn Jones could continue playing until he’s 45, but the reality is the Wales captain seems indestructible after signing a new one-year Ospreys deal.
Jones is 35 and world rugby’s most capped player on 157 appearances, but he shows no signs of slowing down and last month led his country to a Guinness Six Nations title.
He is also a contender to lead the British & Irish Lions in South Africa this summer.
Ospreys captain Tipuric hopes Jones’ decision to stay in Welsh rugby for at least another 12 months can help both his region and country achieve great things.

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