The Welsh Rugby Union has announced a major investment and partnership in Women’s and Girls rugby to underpin the recent success of the Wales Women’s senior side.
Three new Player Development Centres (PDCs) – in East Wales, West Wales and North Wales – will be established to support the development of high potential young players across Wales to help them achieve their ambition to be elite rugby players.
The player-first programme will allow players regular access to a high performance development environment and to aspire to play for Wales in the Test arena.
The PDC’s will be jointly funded by the WRU and its partners and recognise the rapid and exciting development of the Women’s game globally. The initiative and major collaboration is a key building block to ensure Wales’ success on the international stage.
It will combine with key initiatives in the Women’s game, including the Celtic challenge competition and the establishment of a Wales Women U20s programme.
The WRU held a robust tender process to establish the best centres to collaborate with to provide a daily training environment for Wales’ most talented female players below the national senior squad.
The three new PDCs will be based at:
· East Wales PDC: Cardiff Metropolitan University
· West Wales PDC: Swansea University
· North Wales PDC: Rygbi Gogledd Cymru at Parc Eirias
The PDCs, which will be of professional rugby Academy standard, will provide the next generation of rugby players in Wales a clear path to achieve their dreams.
The aim of the PDCs is to deliver local and high-quality training and coaching programmes for high potential pre-elite female athletes, providing the next generation of talent for the elite, professional and international game.
The PDCs will work in partnership with Cardiff Met, Swansea University and RGC as a network and will identify between 25 and 35 players every year to be part of the programme.
Players will continue to play for their clubs, schools, colleges and universities to prepare for Wales U18s, Wales U20s, Celtic Challenge and the Wales Senior side.
The PDCs will provide high quality coaching, with strength and conditioning and medical staff, and ensure players’ educational needs and work commitments are integrated with the programme.
The WRU contracted 25 full-time professional players in 2023 for the recent TikTok Six Nations and the Wales Women’s senior side are now ranked sixth in the world rankings.
Ioan Cunningham, the Wales head coach, masterminded his side’s qualification for the new Tier 1 Global tournament, World XV, in New Zealand in the autumn, where Wales will compete with the best sides in the world.
Siwan Lillicrap, former Wales captain and now WRU Pathway Manager and Age-Grade Coach, said: “This is a major development for Women’s rugby in Wales and will provide a real pathway for the talent we know we have to develop and an opportunity for players of potential to achieve their dream of playing elite rugby.
“It provides players in Wales a clear path to become elite players and, ultimately, an opportunity to play professional rugby and to represent Wales at the highest level.
“To have the commitment of sporting centres of excellence, like Cardiff Met, Swansea University and RGC, on board really demonstrates and acknowledges the exciting journey we are on.
“We have seen, with the national side’s recent performances, what the potential is on the field with their qualification for the WXV Tier 1 global tournament in New Zealand.
“And we have seen in the recent Six Nations that there is a real appetite and audience, with record crowds at Cardiff Arms Park, for women’s rugby. This development will give girls a real opportunity and a clear path to achieving their dreams of wearing the red of Wales.
“I would have loved to have this kind of opportunity when I started playing and it demonstrates the WRU’s commitment to Women’s rugby and acknowledges how far we have come.”
Ioan Cunningham, Wales Women’s Senior Head coach, said: “The PDC’s are a real opportunity to invest in and hone the talent we have in Wales to a professional standard, with aligned skills and conditioning programmes, to allow us to compete at international level. That will allow the next generation of players to compete with the best in the world.”
Nigel Walker, the WRU CEO, added: “These new PDCs are the next piece in the jigsaw for our player development pathway in Women’s rugby. There is now a realistic path for our next generation of female players to take to become our stars of tomorrow, supported by a structure of talent identification and suitable training resource across Wales. This is a vitally important and positive step for Women’s rugby in Wales.”
Ben O’Connell, Director of Sport at Cardiff Met, said: “Cardiff Metropolitan University is delighted to be confirmed as a new Performance Development Centre for Women’s rugby in Wales. With a proud history and tradition of sporting excellence, we are looking forward to adding a further element to our high-performance environment.
“Working with our partners in the WRU we are committed to developing and supporting the women’s pathway, creating an inclusive programme that educates all athletes and coaches involved and ultimately contributing to the elite Welsh rugby system.”
Alun Pritchard, General Manager at RGC, said: “We’re delighted to extend this opportunity to our female players in North Wales who are striving for the chance to develop, with aspirations to one day move into the professional game and eventually represent their country.
“RGC provided nine players to the Wales U18 squad this year and they, along with many others from North Wales, deserve the opportunity to progress and achieve their ambitions. We will now focus on providing them with the best possible performance programme to help them achieve their goals.”
Professor Keith Lloyd, Pro Vice Chancellor at Swansea University, said: “We are excited to be partnering with the WRU and the Ospreys to establish a Performance Development Centre for Women’s Rugby in South West Wales. Our University has a distinguished sporting heritage and we have been proud to support the development of some of Wales’ most talented rugby players in both the men’s and women’s game.
“The Player Development Centre complements our Swansea Bay City Deal “Campuses” Project, which is driving a transformation of our sporting offer and is attracting the attention of world leading sports technology partners and sporting bodies to work with our University.
“We are looking forward to working with our partners to lead a step change in women’s rugby and are committed to delivering an inclusive and dynamic environment that will develop strong pathways for players, and which will create the conditions for the women’s game in Wales to go from strength to strength.“