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Girls’ rugby booms across Wales

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Arrows players: With their coach, Wales international prop Meg York

Arrows players: With their coach, Wales international prop Meg York

THE EXPERIMENT of introducing summer rugby for girls has been a resounding success, with female playing numbers in Wales more than doubling after just one season.

More than 2,000 girls regularly trained and played at the 27 new cluster centres for girls set up all over Wales for spring and summer 2016 and, in conjunction with additional playing opportunities at the 80 school club hubs around Wales, the number of women and girls playing the national sport has gone from a total of around 2,000, to more than 4,000 regular participants.

The cluster centres were so successful in creating a vibrant, sustainable environment for girls’ rugby that 15 new teams have already been established to allow girls to continue to play rugby in the traditional rugby season. These will fall into the Under 15, Under 18 and senior structures already in place, while the girls-only clusters will be back next spring for minis and juniors.

WRU National’s Women’s and Girls Manager, Caroline Spanton, said: “The clusters were set up to overcome some of the barriers girls felt were preventing them from enjoying rugby. Playing girls-only rugby in the summer months were key factors, combined with volunteers, parents, hub officers and WRU staff all pulling in the same direction to create a fun environment for girls from under nines to under 15s.

“The clusters were particularly popular for under nines to under 11s, and the figures for teenage girls has bucked the trend of girls dropping out of sport at that age. The clusters adopted a philosophy of stage not age, so if girls want to carry on playing touch or non-contact rugby, they can do so. We have catered for the demand from some new clusters to keep playing in the traditional season by setting up new under 15 and under 18 teams and ensuring they have everything in place to be sustainable.

“Girls clearly want to play rugby and we will keep working hard to ensure opportunities continue to increase for women and girls at all levels around Wales.”

The Arrows Under 18s in Pontypool is one of the new teams recently set up due to a strong desire from the players to carry on playing once the summer, cluster season ended.

Wales international prop Meg York coaches the side. “The vast majority of these players didn’t play rugby before the Arrows cluster centre was set up but enjoyed it so much that the girls begged us to set up an Under 15 and Under 18 side so that they could keep playing. The players are so enthusiastic, they just want to play rugby and since school has started back, they’ve brought their friends with them too, so numbers are increasing every week.

“They are so keen to learn and I certainly have my eyes on a number of players who could go on and play at a higher level. Coming from Pontypool myself, my idols were the Pontypool front row and if these girls see that I’ve achieved my dream of playing for Wales, hopefully they will see that it’s possible for them too; there is certainly no shortage of talent.”

Arrows player Nicole Smith said: “When I saw on Facebook that the Arrows cluster was setting up, I just had to get involved as I played rugby in primary school and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having Meg as a coach makes a huge difference as she gives us confidence and passes on her skills to us. I would love to play for the Dragons and Wales one day.”

Developing women’s and girls’ rugby at all levels is a key priority for the Welsh Rugby Union.

High profile appointments in the 15 and seven-a-side women’s game recently have been an indication of that at an elite level – along with WRU support for Jasmine Joyce and Laurie Harries to train with GB, Jaz Joyce going on to represent Team GB at the Olympics and a commitment to invest in Wales – places in the Women Sevens, with qualification for the Commonwealth Games and the World Sevens Series, are up for grabs.

At grassroots level, the 80 school club hub officers around Wales have hugely increased opportunities for girls to play rugby in school and helped to transfer girls to the clusters.

To find out about opportunities for women and girls to play rugby, email playrugby@wru.co.uk.

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Six Nations finale with Scotland sold out

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Wales’ final Guinness Six Nations clash of the 2020 Championship – against Scotland – has sold-out.

The tournament climax for incoming head coach Wayne Pivac on Saturday 14th March, will be played out at a full capacity Principality Stadium in front of a 73,931-strong crowd baying for Welsh success.

Pivac opens his first Six Nations campaign, after taking over the head coach reins from incumbent Wales boss Warren Gatland, in Cardiff against Italy on Saturday 1st February with limited tickets (including U16s tickets at £20) still available for this game.

In all over 200,000 tickets have been sold for Wales’ three home matches in the competition and the round three meeting with France, on Saturday 22nd February, is set to follow Scotland in posting up the sold-out signs in the next few days.

The last time Wales faced the Scots, the Azzurri and Les Blues at home following a Rugby World Cup was the 2016 Six Nations, when all three matches sold-out before a ball was kicked, a factor directly influenced by a successful run in the tournament.

In Pivac’s first game in charge he leads Wales against a Barbarians side which will be led by his predecessor at the helm for Wales, Gatland, at Principality Stadium in November.

The Barbarians match has sold over 40,000 tickets to date, but also still has availability for U16s, at £10, with remaining adult tickets starting at £30.

Remaining tickets for Italy and France in the Six Nations and for the Barbarians game are available now from a Welsh rugby club near you, online at www.wru.wales/tickets, in person at the WRU ticket office or by phone 0844 847 1881 (calls to this number cost 7p per minute plus your company’s access charge) – maximum purchase limits apply.

Principality Stadium Official Hospitality Packages are available for all matches from 02920 822309 or visit www.wru.wales/hospitality, with Premium hospitality available for the Barbarians game and limited availability in The Players’ Lounge for Italy.

The WRU’s offsite hospitality partner Events International also has availability www.eventsinternational.co.uk and official travel packages can be purchased from the WRU’s official travel supplier, Gullivers Sports Travel by visiting www.gulliverstravel.co.uk and some member clubs may also still have tickets.

The WRU strongly advises all supporters to make sure they always ‘buy official’, only tickets bought from official sources (member clubs, official partners or the WRU direct) are guaranteed by the WRU – with tickets sold via unlicensed operators often cancelled and entrance regularly and regretfully refused on void tickets.

FIXTURES ON SALE NOW (includes ticket availability by category):

Wales v Barbarians, Saturday 30th November 2019, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.45pm (Double header with Wales Women v Barbarians Women, Kick-off 11.45am) Prices: £10, £20 (both sold-out to adults but £10 concession remains for U16 – with over 40,000, more than half capacity, available) , £30 *AFZ, £40, £50

Wales v Italy, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 1st February 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.15pm. Prices: £30, £50 (both sold-out), £60 *AFZ, £60 (£20 U16), £65 (£20 U16), £75

Wales v France, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 22nd February 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 4.45pm. Prices: £40, £65 (both sold-out), £90, £90 *AFZ, £95, £105 (sold-out)

Wales v Scotland, Guinness Six Nations Championship, Saturday 14th March 2020, Principality Stadium, Kick-off 2.15pm ALL SOLD-OUT

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Wales make two changes for Fiji clash

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Wales have made two changes for their third RWC Pool D encounter against Fiji on Wednesday (October 9 KO 18.45 local / 10.45 UK).

Both changes to the starting XV come in the back row with Ross Moriarty and James Davies coming into the side at number eight and openside flanker respectively with Josh Navidi switching to blindside flanker.

The front-five remains the same from Wales’ opening two victories with Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis packing down in the front-row with Jake Ball and captain Alun Wyn Jones continuing their partnership in the second-row.

The backline for Wales remains unchanged with Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar named as the half-backs with Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies partnering in the midfield.

Josh Adams, George North and Liam Williams line-up as the back-three.

Elliot Dee, Rhys Carre and Dillon Lewis provide the front-row cover on the bench with Aaron Shingler and Aaron Wainwright completing the forward contingent.  Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell and Owen Watkin are named as the backline replacements.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY FIJI ON WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 9

1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets) (17 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets) (69 Caps)
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs) (45 Caps)
4. Jake Ball (Scarlets) (38 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (130 Caps) (CAPT)
6. Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues) (21 Caps)
7. James Davies (Scarlets) (5 Caps)
8. Ross Moriarty (Dragons) (36 Caps)
9. Gareth Davies (Scarlets) (46 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints) (75 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (Cardiff Blues) (16 Caps)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets) (20 Caps)
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets) (78 Caps)
14. George North (Ospreys) (88 Caps)
15. Liam Williams (Saracens) (60 Caps)

Replacements:
16. Elliot Dee (Dragons) (24 Caps)
17. Rhys Carre (Saracens) (1 Cap)
18. Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues) (17 Caps)
19. Aaron Shingler (Scarlets) (22 Caps)
20. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons) (14 Caps)
21. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues) (11 Caps)
22. Rhys Patchell (Scarlets) (15 Caps)
23. Owen Watkin (Ospreys) (17 Caps)

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35-strong squad named for bumper autumn series

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WALES Women head coach Rowland Phillips has named a 35-strong squad for his side’s five matches in November – their biggest autumn series to date. Hooker Carys Phillips will continue to captain the squad which includes 14 uncapped players.

Wales begin the series with three away matches – against Spain, Ireland and Scotland before returning to Wales for the first match against a women’s Crawshay’s team coached by new WRU Council Member Liza Burgess and the first professional female coach in Wales – Rachel Taylor.

That game will take place at Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale on Saturday, November 23, and Taylor will also be part of the opposition coaching team a week later for Wales Women’s first match against the Barbarians in the Principality Stadium double header.

Phillips said: “Our focus hasn’t changed. We are already qualified for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup and our key aim is to build a squad of young players with significant experience under their belts.

“This autumn series is a huge opportunity to do that. All players will gain from the experience of travelling away for three testing encounters against Spain, Ireland and Scotland – all of whom still need to qualify for the World Cup. And to be part of two historic encounters in Wales at the end of November against the Crawhshay’s and Barbarians is something we will all look forward to and enjoy.

“We finished the Six Nations on a high with a dramatic win over Scotland and then a pleasing win and performance against Ireland and we want to build on that momentum this season.

“There is excellent quality coming through – that was evident in the regional programme again this summer and some of those players are rewarded with squad places today. We have a responsibility to continue to develop those players, maximise their potential and also manage them well. We will expose them to an international environment and give them game time when ready. The likes of Lauren Smyth, Manon Johnes, Alex Callender and Gwen Crabb all earned their first caps last autumn and have gone on to become key players in the squad. The opportunity is there for others to do the same if they apply themselves.

“We are clear on where we need to develop to become consistently competitive. There’s a better understanding now from players of what is required of an international player in terms of fitness, skill levels, attitude and everything else that goes with being an international rugby player.

“We aren’t looking beyond the first game. Spain are making significant progress and will provide a tough challenge especially on their home turf. We are looking forward to locking horns with our Six Nations adversaries Ireland and Scotland who both have a point to prove and we want to engage as many home fans as possible in our journey and be part of our home matches at Ebbw Vale at Principality Stadium.”

WRU international skills coaches Geraint Lewis and Chris Horsman have joined Rowland Phillips and Gareth Wyatt in the Wales Women coaching set-up and will provide specialised input throughout the autumn campaign.

Phillips welcomed the addition of the former Wales international forwards. “Geraint and Chris are excellent coaches. With their wealth of experience working with young international players, they understand the need to adapt styles and management skills accordingly. It’s hugely encouraging for the women’s programme to become a more integrated part of the WRU performance structure. I know I’ve learned a lot from coaching female athletes and Chris and Geraint have already shown they will add value to the programme.”

Wales Women autumn series squad:

Forwards: (5 uncapped*)

Alex Callender (Scarlets), Gwen Crabb (Ospreys), Amy Evans (Ospreys), Georgia Evans* (Cardiff Blues), Abbie Fleming* (Cardiff Blues), Cerys Hale (Cardiff Blues),

Sioned Harries (Scarlets), Cara Hope (Ospreys), Jordan Hopkins* (Cardiff Blues), Gwenllian Jenkins* (Scarlets), Natalia John (Ospreys), Manon Johnes (Cardiff Blues), Kelsey Jones (Ospreys), Bethan Lewis (Scarlets), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys), Robyn Lock* (Ospreys), Carys Phillips (Ospreys), Gwenllian Pyrs (RGC)

Backs: (9 uncapped*)

Keira Bevan, (Ospreys), Angharad Desmet* (Scarlets), Alecs Donovan (Ospreys), Lleucu George (Scarlets), Courtney Keight* (Ospreys), Kerin Lake (Ospreys), Caitlin Lewis* (Scarlets), Ffion Lewis (Scarlets), Rebekah O’Loughlin* (Cardiff Blues), Kayleigh Powell* (Ospreys), Paige Randall* (Cardiff Blues), Catherine Richards* (Cardiff Blues), Lauren Smyth (Ospreys), Elinor Snowsill Ospreys), Niamh Terry* (Ospreys), Megan Webb* (Cardiff Blues), Robyn Wilkins (Cardiff Blues)

Wales Women fixtures November 2019:

Spain v Wales Women, Estadio Nacional Computense, Madrid, Sunday, November 3, 12.45pm local time

Ireland v Wales Women, The Bowl, UCD, Dublin, Sunday, November 10, 1pm

Scotland v Wales Women, Glasgow, Sunday, November 17, 3pm

Crawshay’s v Wales Women, Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale Saturday, November 23, 2.30pm

Wales Women v Barbarians Saturday, November 30, Principality Stadium 11.45am

Tickets for the Barbarians double-header on sale via wru.wales/tickets

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