30 December 2017 / Club News

Seasonal message from WRU Chairman Gareth Davies

Congratulations from us all to Sam Warburton who has been recognised in the New Year honours list.

Sam, in his usual self-effacing way, has taken care to mention his teammates and all the coaches who have helped him along the way at all levels of the game, and I would like to also endorse those comments. 

He has been a magnificent servant to Wales and of course the British & Irish Lions already in his career and there is still potentially so much more to come from him - his OBE is a much deserved personal honour but one that, as our national captain, Welsh rugby can also take huge collective pride in.

It's been another exciting year in Welsh rugby and we have some potentially historic challenges ahead.

We are at a crossroads in the game in Wales in two vitally important areas, as we evaluate the competition structure which supports our club game and, elsewhere, propose changes which are set to significantly modernise our Board and the governance of Welsh rugby in general.

If we get things right in the weeks and months ahead the history books could earmark the 2017/18 season in Wales as the one in which Welsh rugby was re-born.

That may sound like a grand claim, but I cannot stress enough how important the decisions we will make in Wales in the next few months will be for the future of our national game.

Our role as a Union is to ensure that anything we do works in the 'here-and-now', is the best solution for 'today', but will also safeguard the future of Welsh rugby.

The balancing act which must be performed is to ensure that decisions are made with both head AND heart.

Nowhere is this more evident than with regard to our own Governance and in terms of the Competition review we are currently undertaking in the club game.

We are currently in the process of reviewing the competitions that support Welsh rugby below the Guinness Pro14 level - the club game in Wales - and are deeply concerned with bridging any potential gap that may exist between the amateur (club) and professional (regional) game.

We are progressing well and have completed research with players, coaches and club representatives. We are also working with those responsible for the performance pathway, which identifies and nurtures future professional players from the club and age grade game, and two clear principles have been agreed:

Firstly, we need to improve the connections in our pathway, so talented players can be identified and managed. We need to ensure the right amount of quality games, structured conditioning and opportunities are provided to players so they can progress and become the best senior players possible. 

We do not have a massive player pool and it is vital that we create the best environment possible for talent to flourish and connect our club game directly to the professional game, the regions and our representative sides.

Secondly, and fundamentally, we need to respect the history and heritage of the club game.

There are times when these two ambitions feel at odds and, make no mistake, we are currently at a hugely important fork in the road.

We need to take our time and work with everyone involved to ensure we come to the best outcome for Welsh rugby.

This is not a unique challenge to Wales and it is something every union has wrestled with since the start of the professional era. 

We have no desire to impose a new structure on the game, but we are working together on a solution which will make us a better union of clubs. There will be no rush to put something in place that we may come to regret in the future, but it is vital that we get the next step right.

I have spoken at length about proposed governance changes recently, but make no apology for stressing at every opportunity the importance of modernising our Board and the District structure we have historically had in place.

We need to streamline, so that we have the best possible structures to ensure we can run the game for the betterment of everyone involved. Our proposed governance changes are aimed at achieving one thing, making the WRU more effective. Change is always hard, but we would rather be proactive than have change forced upon us from the outside or react to failure when it is possibly too late to do so.

On the administration side of the game, we are busy working on projects that will make the running of clubs easier. We are well aware of the efforts of the volunteers without whose efforts the club game would struggle. We want to make their lives easier and will announce a series of new initiatives soon.

Finally to Wales, we have been treated to a year of mixed fortunes on the field at international level and it is one that could have had a very different complexion, but for the '100 minute match' in France and a close fought contest against England, where if we had closed the game out…

A total of 55 players were used by the senior men's team in 2017 and 16 of those were capped for the first time.

It was incredibly reassuring to see the likes of Josh Navidi and Hallam Amos step up in the Under Armour Series this Autumn and a climactic win over South Africa was just what we all needed as we look forward to another hotly contested Six Nations Championship in the new year.

Succession planning is well advanced for replacing Warren Gatland. Warren has created a competitive and thriving environment for our Wales players for a decade, his success as a coach is unparalleled around the globe and throughout the history of the game in Wales, but we have to make sure we are planning to get the best person in place post 2019.

We have a clear strategy taking us through to the World Cup which will address findings from our evaluation of RWC 2015, particularly around squad depth.

We have had a chance to really look at positional depth already with 16 new players capped this year and we can expect more of the same now as we build in earnest for the 2019 campaign.

In the womens' game, participation is up and our plan for the elite level of the game will raise standards from top to bottom.

With what looks like a mouth wateringly competitive Six Nations to look forward to, 2018 promises to start with a bang, let's hope it's a good one!

Yours in rugby.

Gareth Davies 
WRU Chairman

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