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Nigel Walker

Acting WRU CEO Nigel Walker speaks

Nigel Walker, the acting CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union, has accepted that the union’s credibility “is now at an all-time low” in the wake of sexism claims made against the governing body that led to the resignation of Steve Phillips as CEO at the weekend. 

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Speaking live to the BBC Scrum V show on Sunday night he said there was a recognition that the WRU,  “Have fallen short of the high standards that are necessary. We apologise, and we recognise we’ve made many mistakes.”

He went on to add: “We’re not now looking at how we can mitigate the furore that has come our way. What we’re looking to do is to improve and get back a semblance of credibility as we realise that it is now at an all-time low.”  

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He also responded to claims by the former Wales women’s international Alecs Donovan that she felt let down by the environment in which she came into when she was first selected to represent her country. 

“When I came in (as WRU Performance Director in the autumn of 2021) the first thing I was presented with was the review of the women’s programme. It was obvious that things weren’t right,” he added. 

“I’m sorry that Alecs’ time in the national squad wasn’t as enjoyable an occasion as it should have been. That review was a damning review, but we have changed things considerably.  

“The programme isn’t perfect now, but it’s a lot better resourced and the culture and environment in the programme is much better than it was. I know that for a fact.  

“World Rugby conducted a survey following the World Cup and I asked them to insert a few questions that were contained in our original review. I have just had those results back and we know we have raised the standard within the programme and the environment is better.

“We won’t be resting on our laurels, but we are committed to making sure that the female rugby players in this country have the experience that they deserved – and the equivalent to their male counterparts.” 

When invited by Chris Horsman, the ex-Wales prop who worked within the high-performance coaching unit at the union and was part of an interim coaching team with the women’s programme, about the frustrations and culture within the women’s game, he had this to add: “I addressed the squad within a couple of weeks of being appointed and told them I knew they were frustrated, that promises had been made and not been kept,” said Walker.  

“I said they would have professional contracts in their hands by the end of the year. Six or eight of the players raised their eyes to the ceiling – in other words they had heard it all before.  

“By the end of the year, we had professional contracts in their hands. We have made a commitment to them that we will make it the best women’s performance programme in the world.  

“We aren’t there yet but we have made considerable progress and will continue to do so. We invested in head coach Ioan Cunnigham, his support team, a whole science and medicine team and we had 16 support members of staff out in New Zealand for the World Cup.  

“They went to Canada for preparation for a whole week that included a warm-up game against the Canadians. They had another warm-up game against England – everything you would expect in a world class programme is now available to them and that commitment will continue from the Union. 

“I present to the WRU board about the women’s programme and there is a commitment from them that it will continue. We know we were in a place where we shouldn’t have been 15-18 months ago and nobody wants to return to that place because where we were was an indefensible position to be in.  

“We want to support women’s rugby and make a seven or eight-year-old girl be as excited about playing rugby as a seven or eight-year-old boy.” 

Speaking on the broader issue of the relationship between the WRU and the regions, with regard to a new agreement between the two parties, he said contracts between the regional teams and their players should be signed by the end of February.

“Heads of terms have been signed and we are now working towards the long-form agreement. Agreement was given to all the regions to start contract negotiations last Tuesday,” he said.  

“We’d expect that to continue through to the end of February, when all contracts will be signed. We are making progress, but it has taken much longer than it should have and it has been frustrating.  

“I have enormous sympathy for the players, their wives and girlfriends, as well as all coaches involved in this process, but we are making progress.” 

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