WRU Group Chief Executive Martyn Phillips has pledged that the Welsh Rugby Union will continue to invest in growing women and girls’ rugby in Wales.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, and as Wales Women prepare to play their Six Nations match against Italy at Principality Stadium on Mothering Sunday ahead of the NatWest 6 Nations clash between Wales and Italy, Phillips is confident the popularity of the female game in Wales will continue to rise.
“I am thrilled that we have been able to give Wales Women the opportunity to play Italy Women at Principality Stadium on Sunday,” said Phillips.
“Speaking to Rowland Phillips and some of the girls, I know how much they are looking forward to the opportunity to play in such an iconic stadium and I’m sure they will produce a performance they can be proud of.”
While Wales Women will be focussed on the job in hand on Sunday, Rowland Phillips and his team can do that while building solid foundations for long-term improvement after qualifying for the 2021 Rugby World Cup at last summer’s global tournament in Ireland.
Martyn Phillips added,
“We have invested significantly in professional coaches, strength and conditioning and support staff to create a high performance environment and we will continue to build the women’s regional game to underpin the needs of the National Team.
“There is good news for the 7-a-side game too with a female Wales rugby sevens team travelling to Australia next month to compete alongside the men for the first time at the Commonwealth Games, an event that will bring huge interest to rugby union. Before that, head coach Nick Wakley will take the Wales Women Sevens squad to the Hong Kong Sevens World Series qualifier. Entry onto the World Series would be a real game changer for women’s rugby in Wales.
“On a community level, women and girls’ rugby in Wales has enjoyed a fantastic upturn in players, profile and interest in recent years. Last year, almost 10 000 girls played rugby across the 95 schools, colleges or Universities with a WRU hub officer and the second season of girls-only rugby at the new cluster centres around Wales was another success with more than 2000 girls regularly taking part in rugby outside of the school environment. We have plans to continue to grow and strengthen these structures and opportunities in order to cater for the increased demand from girls to play rugby and allow that influx of players to translate into improved standards at the performance end of the game over the next four to eight years. We are also now working with partner organisations such as Urdd Gobaith Cymru and Girlguiding Cymru to grow the game.”
Wales Women head coach Rowland Phillips added,
“Women’s rugby is growing at a very quick pace in this country,” says Phillips. “This is an indication of how the WRU is really supporting us, and acknowledging that there’s a lot of interest and enthusiasm regarding the women’s game. We are already benefitting from an increase in standards with girls starting to play rugby at a younger age which is widening and improving the pool of regional players available to us.
“It is an exciting period with the World Series qualifier and Commonwealth Games coming up and we are working hard to develop the skills and fitness of all our players for both sevens and the 15-a-side game.”
With the game being played on Mothering Sunday, and girls’ rugby participation numbers increasing across Wales, Rowland believes perceptions are certainly changing when it comes to mothers – and fathers – encouraging their daughters to play rugby.
“The way the game is going and being managed well with safety a top priority, I think parents are less reluctant to let their daughters play,” replies Phillips. “In fact, in my experience, all I’ve seen is mums – and dads – being supportive of their girls. It’s fantastic for them and for the game.”
For his daughter Carys, Wales’ captain, rugby was always going to be on the cards. Carys’ grandfather on her mother Sally’s side was Brian Thomas, a highly-regarded lock for Wales in the 1960s. As former Neath flanker (and Wales international himself) Rowland puts it:
“There wasn’t much resistance. I don’t think the ballet costume was ever taken out of the box! With an older brother, Lloyd, who was really keen on rugby too, Sally knew Carys was always going to choose rugby and was very supportive.”
Appropriately, there are two young mums in Phillips’ Wales Women squad – scrum-half Jade Knight and centre Kerin Lake.
“Being a mother and balancing work and international rugby on top of that is a lot of pressure,” says Phillips. “They’re both talented rugby players who cope with those challenges very professionally. I give great credit to them and the families who support them in a way that allows them to capitalise on their talent and hard work.”
Principality Stadium double header Sunday 11 March
Wales Women v Italy Women’s Six Nations 11.45am
Wales v Italy NatWest 6 Nations 3pm