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,
Steve Phillips WRU Group CEO