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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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Wales Women building cohesion at start of big year

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Cohesion was the focus for new Wales Women head coach Warren Abrahams during his first training camp of 2021.

Having been in post just over a month, Abrahams has spent time watching the Welsh performances in the Allianz Premier 15s and getting to know players and staff but the two-day camp was a welcome opportunity for quality face to face time with an enlarged training squad.

“We achieved our key aims on the weekend. The main thing was to learn more about the players. The more we understand them as individuals and as a team, that’s where we can make them better as players.

“The ultimate goal at the moment is to develop cohesion. We have to have the right people and make sure we work incredibly hard on those relationships between players and with management. Everything is tailored to making the team better and we also had some meaningful conversations around the legacy this team wants to leave for the next generation of Welsh women’s rugby and this team has to be the role model for that. That is a long-term goal.”

Abrahams is buoyed by what he’s seen so far. The vast majority of this training squad play in the Allianz Premiership and our players aren’t just making up the numbers. They’re putting down some big markers – just look at Kayleigh Powell and Hannah Jones who both earned a Player of the Match recently and Jaz Joyce who was Player of the Month for December. We’re really proud of how well our players are doing, it’s great for the programme and those experiences are just going to make them better.”

Siwan Lillicrap added, “It’s been nice to get together so soon in the New Year – the first step in a huge year ahead. The focus this weekend was on building a foundation and exploring what we’ve got as a squad.

“I think we absolutely achieved that, the relationships are developing along with a confidence in the squad . It’s been a tough, challenging camp but that’s what you want as we build towards the Six Nations and Rugby World Cup.”

Lillicrap welcomed the input of the new-look coaching team, former Wales captain and Colwyn Bay head coach Rachel Taylor coming in as national skills coach and former Ireland international and Penclawdd forwards coach Sophie Spence joining the set-up as Wales’ World Rugby coaching intern.

“Warren has been very inspirational for us already. It feels like he’s been in post much longer as we’ve done a lot of work on zoom already. It’s great to have Rachel on board. She’s a role model for many of us with what’s she’s done on the field as Wales captain and off it as a coach and Sophie too with her international experience and coaching knowledge.”

Training squad:
Forwards: Abbie Fleming, Alisha Butchers, Gwen Crabb, Georgia Evans, Cerys Hale, Cara Hope, Molly Kelly, Natalia John, Manon Johnes, Kelsey Jones, Beth Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap, Robyn Lock, Shona Powell-Hughes, Donna Rose, Caryl Thomas, Meg Webb, Teleri Wyn Davies
Backs: Alecs Donovan, Beth Huntley, Bryonie King, Courtney Keight, Jade Knight, Caitlin Lewis, Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Kayleigh Powell, Paige Randall, Jess Roberts, Gemma Rowland, Lauren Smyth, Elinor Snowsill, Robyn Wilkins, Flo Williams

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Scarlets slay Dragons

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Pro-14 Conference BScarlets 20 – Dragons 3

SCARLETS started 2021 as they ended 2020 with a Welsh derby victory at Parc y Scarlets.
Tries from man-of-the-match Sione Kalamafoni and replacement Sam Costelow, combined with the boot of Dan Jones ensured Glenn Delaney’s side made it a festive double to move them up to second in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14 standings.
The Scarlets weren’t at their free-flowing best and will be frustrated by the amount of handling errors and ill-discipline in their performance, but the winning run continues ahead of next week’s clash with Cardiff Blues in the Welsh capital.
Despite a rare dry night in Llanelli, the opening 40 minutes was littered with errors from both sides and it meant the game had little flow.
The Scarlets enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but too often passes failed to go to hand.
It was the Dragons who were first on the scoreboard thanks to a penalty from the boot of ex-Scarlet Josh Lewis.
Wales lock Jake Ball limped off moments later with a knee injury to be replaced by Tevita Ratuva, while Wyn Jones, on his 100th appearance, also left the field for a head assessment.
The outstanding Kalamafoni made a powerful surge up the middle of the field to put the Scarlets on the offensive, but again a promising move broke down.
Dan Jones levelled matters on 29 minutes, then added another penalty on the stroke of half-time after a quick tap from Kieran Hardy.
The Scarlets continued to enjoy the better of play in the second period, but had to wait until 57 minutes for the game’s first try.
More pressure led to Gareth Davies being taken out off the ball and Dragons lock Matthew Screech being shown yellow by referee Nigel Owens.
Scarlets went for the corner instead of the shot at goal and a well-worked training move saw Kalamafoni charge across the whitewash for his first try in Scarlets colours, a score converted by Jones.
With former Scarlet Rhodri Williams adding a spark, Dragons looked for an immediate response, but a brilliant turnover from Ratuva snuffed out the threat.
Then in the final play, replacement Sam Costelow picked up a loose ball, sped through the gap and around the final defender for a superb solo score, with the Wales U20s fly-half adding the conversion for good measure.
After the hard-fought win, Scarlets coach Glenn Delaney said: “I suppose it was a compelling contest of a different nature. You saw a lot of kicking battles going on, neither team wanted to give the other counter-attacking opportunities.
“I thought defensively we were very resolute, I never felt we were in danger on our goal-line, it was a bit stop-start with a couple of drop balls, but I am delighted to get the win and we did create a bit more in the second half.
“With these derby games, I am learning every time we play one, they all seem to be pretty much like this and perhaps bring out the best and worst in us because of the individual competition and contest.
“We would have liked to have done a bit more with the ball and the attacking breakdown with us was poor, the Dragons turned over a bit of ball there so we need to be better in that area and make sure when we make the breaks we are able to capitalise.”Attachments area

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Scarlets’ late surge sees off Ospreys

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Pro-14 Conference B – Ospreys 14 – Scarlets 16 

A LATE try from Angus O’Brien secured the derby day spoils in a nail-biting Guinness PRO14 Boxing Day clash against the Ospreys.
The Ospreys, playing as the official ‘home’ team at Parc y Scarlets, had led for the majority of a tense contest.
But with 71 minutes on the clock, a superb off-load from replacement Blade Thomson paved the way for full-back O’Brien to slice through and dive over for the crucial score.
Man of the match Dan Jones added the conversion to put the Scarlets in front for the first time and the West Walians were able to finish the match on the front foot to claim the annual festive bragging rights and a crucial win to keep them in the hunt in the Conference B standings.
O’Brien hadn’t been named in the original match-day 23, but was brought in at the 11th hour as a replacement for Johnny McNicholl.
In blustery conditions, Scarlets enjoyed the early pressure, but despite hammering away at the Ospreys line were unable to come away with any points.
Instead, it was the Ospreys who were first on the board after 14 minutes through the boot of fly-half Stephen Myler.
The opening quarter was proving a cagey affair with both sides unable to get any momentum going.
A moment of individual brilliance from scrum-half Reuben Morgan-Williams, who dummied and sprinted clear from 40 metres, extended the Ospreys’ lead on 22 minutes, but the Scarlets’ response was swift with Jones landing a penalty straight from the kick-off.
Jones hit the upright with another attempt, then a pin-point cross-field kick from Steff Hughes just evaded the grasp of wing Steff Evans with the line at his mercy.
A powerful scrum on the stroke of half-time led to a long-range penalty chance, but O’Brien’s strike drifted wide with the Ospreys going in ahead 8-3 at the break.
Myler extended his side’s lead early in the second half, but Jones kept Scarlets in it with his kicking out of hand and off the floor.
Two more penalties from the Carmarthen fly-half to one from Myler made it 14-9 going into the final 10 minutes.
Then the Scarlets struck.
With Thomson having a big impact off the bench, the back-rower plucked a ball out of the sky as the Scarlets surged forward. He was involved again soon after, producing a sublime pass to O’Brien who cut a great angle to the posts.
With only two points in it, the Scarlets showed their composure to make their way downfield and set up camp in ‘home’ territory for the final minutes, denying the Ospreys any chance to snatch the win.Glenn Delaney reflected on the absence of fans from the stadium.“You go back 12 months and there were 15,000 people here and I don’t think I have experienced anything like it. This place was electric.“I say it every week, we are very fortunate to be in the position we are and we are only here by virtue of the supporters of this great club. We want the fans back here as soon as possible.“Hopefully, they found a chance to shout at the TV screens, get involved and share the experience. The derby season is passionate, the only thing we are missing is the people. We must get the people back into the game, they would have loved the occasion.”On the performance, while Glenn Delaney was ‘delighted’ with the win, he added: “There is plenty for us to work on. We stayed in the game and that’s what you have to do in a derby.“There were a lot of things we weren’t happy about in terms of our skillsets and penalty count, we were very ill-disciplined and we need to correct that. We were putting pressure on ourselves. We were trying to play and we were quite close on a couple of occasions, a couple of pass-kicks almost went to hand.“Probably not having a game for a week or so showed, our timing was a bit off; we have had a couple of disjointed weeks, we looked a bit rusty. I thought the Ospreys were excellent, put us under pressure and took their points well.”

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