WRU Status Update 28/04/21
There are green shoots wherever we look in Welsh rugby at the moment.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.”