Lack of WRU funding and support hurting domestic and women’s rugby

Wouldn’t it be great in Welsh rugby if for once we could well and truly celebrate a win, without there being serious structural issues in rugby roiling right below the surface?

Just a day after Wales retained their Six Nations title in such a superb fashion against England, reports emerged in the press that star Wales and Scarlets wing George North was now a target for Northampton Saints, with the Scarlets in a truly difficult position on whether or not they are capable of retaining him or not. This is a player who has played 37 times for the Scarlets in the last two years, and yet 31 times for Wales. All that time while he’s been playing for Wales, it is the Scarlets that have been paying his wages. The same Scarlets that are now going to struggle to be able to match any offers that he is likely to receive outside of Wales in order to keep him.

The underfunding of the regions compared to other top European sides is yet again raising its ugly head. Yet do we hear anything about this in any comments in the press from the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU)? No instead a report was issued on the BBC leading up to the Wales v England match indicating just how financially stable the WRU is and full of glowing praise for the Union in how it supports rugby from the grass roots up. This issue with George North and indeed many other top players in Wales seems to directly contradict that.

Add to that reports seen in The Rugby Paper of the issues clubs such as Maesteg are facing and the further reports on social media of yet more clubs in Wales folding it would seem that the actual reality of the situation in domestic rugby in Wales is completely different to that the WRU is looking to paint in main stream media.

But who to believe? Yes the WRU has done well to promote and support Team Wales, giving those 23 med in red the best possible preparation possible. An Autumn dip aside, and it’s actually been a hugely successful two years for them.

Their pathway structures also look promising and is a small step in the right direction, yet so much more is needed, and the frequency of reports on social networks of clubs struggling must surely be a concern. The WRU needs to step up their investment dramatically, not just financially in clubs but in promoting the need for referees and volunteers. They need to work much closer with the clubs and regions to help get the rugby structure in Wales all working together. The inability for the WRU to acknowledge the problems in domestic rugby in Wales is sadly a huge sticking point in these issues needing to be addressed.

This then brings me on to the latest problem to hit Welsh rugby.

The women’s team, fresh from having managed to secure Rugby World Cup qualification, and having run Ireland and England so close in this year’s Six Nations campaign ,they should have been riding on a wave of confidence.

However reports have emerged in the last few days of the proposals to change the structure of the women’s tournament going forward. Talk is that they want it split into a two tier system, with Wales being in tier 2 and only playing two games a season.

The fact that these women who already represent their country without pay, who sacrifice so much themselves in order to don the Welsh shirt, are now looking to have what limited support and funding they have slashed even further is an utter disgrace. The WRU has been boasting its secure financial standing recently, so why on earth would they slash the funding and support? Supposedly they already don’t pay for Wales’ Women to compete in the Canada Cup and other European competitions, so how on earth can they pull out of supporting them in the Six Nations now? Two international games a season is no way near enough for a team that is preparing to compete in a rugby world cup. Nor is it a sensible move to encourage the growth and support of the women’s game in Wales.

The WRU appears to give the impression that they believe that the job it is doing currently is enough to support the development of rugby in Wales. The reports in the media from club sides, and now this serious issue with reducing funding for the women’s game completely contradicts that view.

The WRU is in a position to really work together with the clubs for the benefit of Welsh rugby as a whole, especially as we now ride on the wave of confidence from the men’s senior side doing so well. Sadly it does not appear there are those at the WRU able to see the real issues facing the sport in Wales. 

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Foundations, development and results – the Drovers way

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Llandovery RFC, the Drovers, is one of those rugby clubs that is truly embedded in the area. Over its proud  131year history it has often punched above its weight, and head coach Lyndon Lewis has been speaking about why things are now starting to go so right for the club.

 “We’ve got maximum points so far this season, so really, we couldn’t be happier”.

But what exactly over the last couple of seasons has caused such a turnaround in results for this club?

 “We’ve invested in youngsters over the last four years, there’s a really good environment for players to develop, …we’ve got a good group of players and coaching staff so really the whole package is working. We’re very fortunate to have a hard working board of directors who are supportive and honest especially chairman Handel Davies and club president Phil Davies. Without people like that we couldn’t keep driving standards up”.

 It’s interesting the comment about driving standards up. It has long been the mission in Welsh rugby to improve the quality of the Welsh Premiership in order to enable players to make the step up to international and now regional rugby more easily, and Lyndon Lewis was firmly of the opinion that it was working.

I think its improving year on year. You can see evidence of that by players going straight from premiership to regional to international rugby. If it wasn’t for the premiership they wouldn’t be in the condition or at the standard capable of doing that within a season”.

 With talk of regional rugby, over the last couple of seasons Llandovery players have been making more and more appearances for their regional team the Scarlets. With talk of whether or not the regions have been a success, it’s interesting to discover just how much of an involvement the Scarlets have with one of their feeder clubs.

 “... we have weekly contact with Scarlets coaching staff Garan Evans and Simon Easterby. It means there’s a clear development path for player movement and development. There’s always an open invitation for the Scarlets to come to Llandovery …

 But when you read the sometimes grumblings of other clubs, with the murmurs of discontent having their players called up at short notice to play for their region, is this something Lewis sees as a problem with the Drovers?

 “We’ve got to remember where in the food chain we are, we’re here to develop players who hope to go on to regional then international rugby and we play a  major role in that full stop. If you look at the players that have been involved with Llandovery, like …. Kieran Murphy and Adam Warren – both got man of the match awards in their first games for the Scarlets after making the step up from Llandovery. The close link with the Scarlets is there and if we feel that a player is playing well then we point them in the direction of the Scarlets…”

 Emyr Phillips is another player you could add to that list, as well as international star George North. It’s easy to forget where these players come from when they’ve had so much exposure at the highest level, but it’s clear when speaking to Lewis that he believes that it’s the structures in place in clubs like Llandovery, that allows players to excel when they move up in the game.

 Another club in the region that has well been known to be the prime club supplying players to the Scarlets is that of Llanelli RFC and they are Llandovery’s opponents this Saturday and its set to be a thrilling local derby.  Lewis made mention of a few of the players he thinks will be worth keeping an eye on.

 “Well along with Rhodri Williams there’s Chris Knight on the wing and Jack Roberts at centre, they’ve both been in great form but it’s hard to choose really when there’s been so many playing so well”.

What this weekend will bring is two sides on form, two sides full of youngsters from the local area, and two sides that are committed to expressing themselves on a rugby pitch. With such a good environment both on and off the pitch at Llandovery they will be hoping to keep their fine form going. Their coach concedes it’s far too early in the season to be getting excited about results, but with this match being a local derby, it’s definitely not the one they would want to end their winning streak.