Wales are making changes to encourage more younger players into the game.
Pic: Ysgol Glantaf pupils join Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism; Julie James, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology; WRU Head of Rugby Josh Lewsey and WRU and school staff at the announcement of the new pathway for women and girls
The WRU are moving girls rugby up to and including Under 15s to the spring and summer with immediate effect and new, girls-only teams will be introduced at specific regional hub venues from Under 9 to Under 15 in order to respond to a clear demand to play the game.
After widespread consultation over the past six months including an online survey and regional forums, and girls participation has been one of the real success stories of the School-Club Hub initiative, launched by the WRU last September, with increases in girls’ teams, fixtures and players.
Among the 43 School-Club Hubs, there are now more than 100 girls teams, compared to six at the start of the year; 561 fixtures have been fulfilled, compared to 37 last year, and the number of girls playing rugby has increased by 676% - 1320 compared to 170 last year.
The changes to the pathway were announced as the Deputy Minister for Sport, Ken Skates AM visited two of the schools involved in the School Club Hub scheme.
The two Cardiff schools visited – Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf and Fitzalan School – have employed full time rugby officers and are already seeing the benefits of the initiative with increases in participation in rugby, from boys and girls, at all levels, amongst other, less direct benefits.
Girls have largely been introduced to the sport at the Hubs via accessible forms of the game such as touch rugby, but sevens rugby has also been introduced where there is a high level of interest and enough numbers. The number of Hubs is set to increase from 43 to 80 in September and will be one of the key vehicles to help deliver the changes to the rugby pathway.
WRU Head of Rugby Josh Lewsey said: “We are hugely encouraged by the appetite shown by girls at the Hubs across Wales and across all levels of the game. Many of the girls in the Hubs have played rugby for the first time this year and we recognise that we are starting from a position where there was little or no rugby played at this level previously. However, we are determined to maximise the interest shown and the new rugby pathway and strategy for women and girls aims to maximise the interest and opportunities created.
“Moving to the summer months will hopefully mean fewer cancellations and with less time spent on traditional rugby, hub officers can concentrate on girls’ development and alternative formats of the game during that period. We are very aware that we need to provide playing opportunities to suit modern lifestyles so touch rugby for boys, girls, adults and mixed teams will feature heavily from junior through to adult rugby.”
Caroline Spanton, WRU National Women’s Rugby Manager added: “The changes to the rugby pathway, as part of a clear, strategic direction, we believe, will be conducive to further increases in girls’ participation, and will provide a route for girls who have shown an initial interest in the sport, to play more regularly, improve and enjoy the sport as part of a team.
“We want to create a pathway for girls that fosters participation, retains involvement and develops talent. The changes aim to cater for players’ stage in the game and not their age, so if girls want to continue to play tag rugby rather than contact rugby, we will cater for that.
“Girls will now be able to play girls-only rugby from under 9s through to the senior game which is a huge step forward and we aim to create a competition framework that supports participation but also develops talent.
“Volunteers are vital and we are developing coaching and refereeing programmes to make these routes, along with rugby administration, more accessible for women and girls.
“We want to capitalise on some of the strengths of our game – fun, fitness, teamwork and loyalty – and it is also important to further utilise some of our international and community players as role models for younger girls.”
Key women and girls’ pathway changes:
- Girls only rugby from Under 9s to senior rugby
- Structured season with minis to Under 15s moving to a spring summer sport
- New competition structure to support development
- New Under 18 Club League
- Working with key partners to support growth eg Welsh Universities and the Urdd
- Introduction of strategically located cluster clubs in a new approach to development of mini and junior rugby
- Touch Rugby key focus at all levels to suit modern lifestyles and create strong, recreational opportunities
- Working with role models to improve perception of the game for women and girls and ensure culture change