Latest WRU Status Update – the women’s game, club funds and a new PRB director

Latest WRU Status Update – the women’s game, club funds and a new PRB director

Marianne Økland

Welsh Rugby Union CEO Martyn Phillips talks about a part of rugby that accounts for 25 per cent of the world playing population – the women’s game – welcomes new PRB director Marianne Økland and describes the processes behind an upcoming Board review that could release more funds to clubs… and much more in the latest WRU Status Update:

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A video conference last week with our women’s performance squad and management left me hugely impressed with the dedication and focus of this whole group to maximise the opportunities presented by the current lockdown situation and ignore its obvious drawbacks.

The players have continued to push both their conditioning and skills development and the group is determined and unerring from one true course, to implement the plan in place to build for the World Cup next year and be ‘ready to go’ once restrictions are lifted. 

The Welsh Rugby Union’s strategy to increasingly improve and step-change this element of the game through increased and targeted investment of time, money and resources remains equally unerring and is wholly in line with the ambitions of World Rugby. 

We are conscious that 2021 will be a huge year for the women’s game, with the Olympics delayed until that summer there will only be seven weeks between the women’s Olympic Sevens tournament and the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, these are flagship events and present an ideal opportunity to increase the profile of women’s rugby a further step. 

I would also like to add my welcome to Marianne Økland who joins the Professional Rugby Board alongside Amanda Blanc as our second independent non-executive Director. I know Marianne has a passion for rugby and the women’s game in particular. We look forward to the additional leadership she will bring to this important element of the PRB agenda. 

We have also been busy working on potential emergency funding options for clubs. As we said at the outset, whilst it can never be guaranteed, our objective is to do all we can to ensure all clubs emerge from the other side of this crisis. 

On that note we are grateful to those clubs who have submitted their surveys to help us to understand and scale the issue, although there are still 50 or so clubs that we need to hear from please?

We would also like to credit the clubs who have managed to submit applications for the various government and local authority funding schemes and who have or will see the financial benefit of these schemes. 

Clearly this area continues to evolve and we are committed to continue to work with our clubs to make the most of the opportunities available.

We have a WRU Board meeting on 10 June where we will review the findings from the survey and assess what, if any, additional opportunities we have to provide further funding.

In the interests of transparency that Board review is likely to take the following form:

• An assessment of the latest WRU financial position in order to determine what, if any, emergency funds can be made available

• Review of the club survey data that has been returned to help to identify what clubs are most in need of assistance and how might funds be apportioned

• Priority will be given to clubs who have taken all reasonable self-help measures

• We will also be looking wherever possible to allocate funds to clubs that have plans in place to safeguard a sustainable future

Clearly the future remains uncertain with little visibility as to when life will return to a new normal.

With that in mind, we will be doing all we can to make funds available and to do our utmost to tailor funding to the areas where it can be of most impact. 

In addition we will continue to monitor government support packages and continue to provide ongoing advice and support.

In the meantime please stay safe.

Martyn Phillips


How to survive the crisis 

For a comprehensive breakdown and detailed assessment of just how Welsh rugby is handling the current Coronavirus crisis, tune in to WRU National Club Development Manager Chris Munro on the latest WRU podcast
Chris discusses the hugely insightful survey results, funding and how it is allocated – some £1.9m which has been accessed by 126 clubs both via the WRU and sourced through the Welsh Government and a further £420k is still available (please complete the ‘club impact survey’ sent to your club secretary, only around 50 clubs are now outstanding but we do need to hear from everyone)  the ongoing ‘club of the future’ strategy and the steps the Union is continuing to take to ensure that rugby clubs around Wales remain at the heart of their communities beyond the crisis.  
Any queries should be directed to the WRU Helpdesk clubdevelopment@wru.wales

Økland joins the PRB 
Welsh rugby’s Professional Rugby Board (PRB) has appointed a new independent non-executive director, Marianne Økland, who is senior figure in the financial sector. 
Økland is a portfolio non-executive director with international leadership experience from boards located in six different countries, predominantly in banking and shipping. 
She joins recently appointed chair Amanda Blanc to complete the independent contingent of the PRB, the body which oversees the professional game in Wales and also includes representation from the Welsh Rugby Union and each of the four Welsh regional teams. 
Born in Norway and a graduate of the Norwegian School of Economics the PRB’s new Board member has chaired a broad range of board committees herself, with focus on risk management, audit and corporate governance.  
She is also a member of the executive committee of Penguins International RFC, a touring club dedicated to promoting rugby and its values around the world which has coached over 20,000 children, primarily in developing countries, and boasts a number of past and current internationals (including Derek Quinnell, David Pickering and Alan Phillips) as former players 
“We are delighted to welcome on board someone of such calibre and with such a high level of experience, who joins the PRB at this pivotal moment for the future of the game in Wales,” said PRB chair Amanda Blanc. 
Read more here: 

World Rugby launches recruitment drive in Women’s game 
World Rugby (WR) has launched a new rugby toolkit (available here ) to assist unions and regional associations in recruiting, developing and retaining more female rugby coaches at every level of the game.
As part of WR’s plan to accelerate the global development of women in rugby 2017-25, a core pillar is inspirational leadership on and off the field, including the areas of coaching and refereeing, with women currently making up 25% of the rugby playing population worldwide. 
In 2018, a WR review of the status of women in high performance coaching, led by World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Carol Isherwood, found many of the challenges and barriers influencing a lack of women in high performance coaching positions are complex and inter-linked, requiring integrated solutions. 
“The development of the toolkit was one of the key recommendations in the Carol Isherwood report, with its purpose to assist unions in creating more global diversity in coaching teams and increase the number of women coaching rugby at elite level,” said WR General Manager of Women’s Rugby Katie Sadleir.
“It can also act as a ‘cultural change kit’ to create pathways for unions to start understanding their organisational unconscious bias and the steps necessary to make constructive change. The interventions, approaches and innovative ways of working can be applied to the whole game.”
Sadlier confirmed Women’s rugby is still one of the “top three priorities” for WR despite the coronavirus pandemic putting a strain on finances in a recent interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 
“It is the strategic growth area of the game,” (with participation up 28% year on year), she said.
“We’re pushing normalising women’s rugby on and off the field, I’ve been talking a lot about the impact of Covid and the challenges, and we’re in a really unique situation. 2021 will be an amazing opportunity.”
Read more here 

Our own Rachel Taylor – former Wales captain, Colwyn Bay head coach and North Wales academy skills coach (the first professional role in Wales for a female coach) – is one of seven elite female coaches from rugby sevens and 15s to be selected to participate in the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy for High Performance Caoches, as part of a pilot programme in partnership with the International Olympic Committee. 
On this theme WRU Board member Liza Burgess, another former Wales captain and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, has been speaking about the value of getting into coaching for women. Watch videos with Liza and Rachel on the WRU Game Locker Coaches’ Cornerhere: 

Mental Health Awareness week and fundraising

The rugby family has been demonstrating its community spirit once again during Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme of the week is kindness – to ourselves as well as others and this is what we are seeing on a weekly basis from clubs, staff and volunteers throughout the game. Whether it’s keeping in touch with vulnerable members of our communities by picking up the phone, or coordinating fundraising efforts which raise the spirit of all those involved in the physical challenge and provide much-needed support to the recipients, we have seen rugby clubs and groups come together more than ever before, if virtually.   
Some clubs, as reported in recent Updates, having gone to great lengths to raise money have now put the funds towards the mental well-being of those who need it most at this time… keep an eye on our websites and social media channels this week to find out more including some impressive efforts, from Dragons inclusion officer Gareth Sullivan and Pontyclun (link) Walking Rugby’s Julius Roszkowski, to keep those most isolated involved and engaged.

While most rugby players try as best they can to stay in good physical condition during lockdown, Lloyd Ashley is looking the whole picture and has launched his own wellbeing business.
The Ospreys lock has extra time on his hands due to the Covid-19 pandemic leading to the indefinite postponement of all rugby and he is putting it to good use. 
Ashley has launched ‘Living Well with Lloyd Ashley’ – a company he hopes will help both rugby players and the general public look after themselves better.
He knows all too well the toll professional rugby can take both mentally and physically after playing more than 100 times for the Ospreys since his 2011 debut and is already working with the region’s academy to support their mental wellbeing.
He is also in close collaboration with the Welsh Rugby Players’ Association and hopes to take his structured and big picture approach into businesses all over Wales.
Read more here: 

Barry rugby club have set themselves a challenge which is partly about raising money for charity but also explicitly about keeping club participants engaged and encouraging everyone to stay healthy from mini and junior level right through the seniors. 
The club are virtually gathering together in teams to racing across the equivalent of the famous ‘Route 66’ – all players, coaches, parents and referees record their walk, cycle or run via Strava, take a screen shot of the mileage covered and upload. 
The group – from minis, juniors or seniors – which covers the 3,940km first, by adding up all of the mileage taken each, first wins. 
The charity to benefit will be Velindre Cancer Centre but Barry set the challenge to engage the whole club and stay connected through one event whilst social distancing and the whole club is really behind the event and lots of people are getting involved.
Here is the link to find out more and donate 

An epic challenge by members of Clwb Rygbi, who ‘virtually’ raced around Wales 4 times (4120 miles) in under 8hrs has raised more than £11,500 and counting for NHS staff and key workers. 
The club committee immediately set about deciding how best to spend or donate the money and have concluded, after research and consultation that it will go towards purchasing tablets for care homes in and around the Cardiff area, enabling staff and patients to stay in contact with loved ones. With the tag line Keeping Wales Connected, they will also donate a tablet to a care home in each of the towns/cities of the 40 rugby clubs they ‘visited’ during their virtual tour and are linking with those rugby clubs to help facilitate this. 

Brecon have now raised more than £11 000 through their innovative Name a Ewe initiative and that money has now been allocated to the mental well-being of NHS staff, patients and families. The club has moved on to their next sheep-related fundraiser – a sponsored shearing of the flock!

The Llanelli District Rugby Union, which has responsibility to cover rugby for all 2nd XV’s  and stand-alone District Member  clubs in Carmarthenshire as well as Lampeter and Tregaron in Ceredigion, has donated £500 each to the Intensive Care Units at Glangwili Hospital, Carmarthen and Prince Philip Hospital, Llanelli in recognition of the efforts of the staff in the current health crisis.
The money had been set aside for the purchase of league and cup trophies but, with rugby on stop and competitions not to be completed this season, the LDRU hit on a new purpose for the funds. 
All the clubs agreed that the money concerned should go to the NHS at this difficult time and in particular to the very units which regularly look after the players themselves who may pick up injuries whilst playing the game they love. 

The show must go on – club award nights

Around the country now would normally be the time for annual club award nights to be taking place in a rugby club near you, well Welsh rugby has once again proved insurpressible. 
Clubs throughout Wales have carried on undeterred by the lockdown and decided to host their own ceremonies anyway – yes you guessed it via zoom! 
Gareth Sullivan, the Dragons Inclusion Officer, was one of the first to get in touch and express his pride with the presentation night virtually hosted for his Dragons All Star Mixed Ability teams. 
Gareth helped ensure all players were present on the zoom call and says initiatives like this – and the provision of technical support that goes alongside – are key for the well-being and mental health of the players.

Not to be outdone Cardiff Met hosted their own virtual awards last Saturday night.  Over 100 club members joined the video call and a vibrant two hour event followed. 
The club used keynote for their presentation and shared the screen with everyone on the night, with videos and reviews supplied by coaches to keep the evening ticking over.  They were even able to allow award winners to conduct acceptance speeches. 
The Cardiff Met player of the year was Will Hurd, the most improved award went to Max Heathman, best newcomer was won by Bingo Ivanisevic, the players’ player of the year was Will Gibson and clubman of the year was won jointly by analysts Ryan Humphreys-Thomas and Aidan Fitzgerald. 

The Stuart Williams Memorial Award for Pontypridd RFC Forward of the Year 2019-20 was won by lock Kristian Parker.
The annual award, given in memory of stalwart Ponty prop Stuart Williams, who tragically passed away in 2013, is sponsored by the GMB Union and is given to the outstanding performer from amongst the forward unit.
Parker, in receiving the award, achieved a remarkable treble having already been voted as Supporters’ and Players’ Player of the Season.
In his first full season with Pontypridd Parker made 18 appearances, all of those being in the starting line-up – more starts than any other of the squad.
His abrasive style of play, his versatility in covering both the second and back row positions, and his willingness to put his body on the line time and again were the attributes that made such an impression on the Ponty support.
Hailing from Church Village, Parker had previously played for Ebbw Vale in the Premiership before making the move closer home to Pontypridd. It was a move that certainly paid dividends for club and player, as reflected in his well deserved Player of the Season award.

Coaching coaches with Clements
While life may have come to a screeching halt for players, the current lockdown engulfing the world has proved no obstacle for Wales’ top coaches.
Webinars, zoom conference calls and google hangouts are just some of the platforms Wales’ top rugby coaches are utilising to ensure they are ready to go when the sport’s administrators hit the reset button – whenever that may be. 
Some of the top names in performance sport from around the globe have dropped in to share and learn with Wales’ best – Shaun Wane (England Rugby League Head Coach) and Anthony Seibold (Brisbane Broncos Head Coach) to name just two.
Eighteen months into his job as Wales Rugby Union performance coach manager, Dan Clements has quietly and methodically introduced significant changes to top end of the coaching landscape in Wales.
Read more here: 

Remembering analysis pioneer Lyons

Former Wales coach Kevin Bowring has led the tributes to Keith Lyons, the pioneering sports analyst who founded the world-renowned Centre for Notational Analysis at Cardiff Met University.
The north Wales-born Lyons died last week in Australia, where he had been battling a brain tumour for some time. He was 68.
An educator and sport scientist who specialized in the observation and analysis of performance in sport, he was one of the earliest pioneers of analysis in sport and the author of the first book on the use of video in sport.
He played rugby in the amateur days for Loughborough College, London Welsh and Rosslyn Park and represented North Wales against three international touring teams. He inevitably progressed into coaching and was heavily influenced by the great coaches, Ray Williams, Tony Gray and Jim Greenwood.
In 1991, he was appointed as the notational analyst for the Welsh Rugby Union and supported Welsh national coaches, Alan Davies, Alec Evans and Kevin Bowring. This made him one of the first officially recognised performance analysts in world rugby.
Read more here: 

Which is the greatest Welsh try – you decide?

Finally, it proved a tough assignment, but rugby fans stepped up to narrow down 139 years of historic rugby to select 16 candidates as the ‘Greatest Ever Welsh try’.
Our on-line poll was swamped with entries and now is the final chance to decide, officially, exactly who scored the greatest Welsh try of all time.
There will be four rounds of head-to-heads to choose from before the winner is crowned in the final.
The first round kicks off the formalities with eight head-to-heads to be decided.
On one side of the draw there are four head-to-heads with Keith Jarrett’s Five Nations effort against England in 1967 the oldest contender while on the other side of the draw Justin Tipuric’s touchdown against England earlier this year in the Six Nations is the most recent nominee.
Watch all the contenders and vote for your favourite here: 

Shane Williams stands a huge 18 touchdowns ahead of anyone else in the try-scoring stakes for Wales and is delighted that two of his efforts are in the running for the title of ‘Greatest Welsh Try’.
But the former Ospreys wing, who scored 58 in 87 appearances for Wales, knows exactly which one of the 16 specially selected tries he is going to vote for.
“Phil Bennett’s try against Scotland at Murrayfield in 1977 is my favourite said Williams.
“It was a great team effort, showcased so many different elements of skill and was rounded off with the most magnificent sidestep.” 
One of Williams’ two tries in the running against Benny’s wonder score 43-years ago is also against the Scots – his last-gasp effort to win an epic clash in Cardiff in 2010.
Williams, who also has a solo effort against the Springboks from half-way included in the action, says it is “a real honour”to be among the contenders, but also revealed there is another of his all-time favourites among the list. 
Click here to see the Phil Bennett try and hear more from Shane Williams.

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