The Welsh Rugby Union has revealed record-breaking figures for participation at grassroots level.
The Union say a digital registration system which was brought into action three seasons ago has given them more reliable data when it comes to deciphering just how many players there are in the game. It has been a hot topic throughout the pandemic amid fears that players would be walking away from the game and clubs would be unable to recapture their attention when the lockdowns subsided.
There have also recently been examples of clubs being unable to complete their seasons with teams not being able to put sides together. This is thought to be exacerbated by the absence of promotion or relegation throughout the community game, leaving teams with very little to actually play for. This was a one-off step taken by the WRU due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
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There will, of course, be hope that this will not be the case next year, should clubs finally be able to play out a full season of fixtures with the prospect of promotion and threat of relegation back on the table. And that will hopefully be bolstered by these new participation figures, which the WRU say flies in the face of claims that the community game is on its knees.
According to WRU’s records, there are 45,613 boys / men from under-7s up to the senior game currently registered in Wales. The figure for girls / women is 5,686, bringing the combined total to 51,299. That is a marginal increase on the pre-pandemic figure of 48,681.
For the women and girls’ game, whose season officially runs from March to December in Wales, it boasts the highest number of registered female players so far. Forty senior club sides and 37 hubs, with teams from under-7s up to under-18s and also senior women in some places, are in operation this year.
WRU community director Geraint John said: “Two years ago we weren’t playing and everybody was saying the game is gone and dying. When you look at it, we have more players actively registered in our game than we have ever had before.
“We’ve reached over 50,000 actively registered in our game and we’ve never had that before under the system where you could categorically say who is and isn’t playing.
“It’s interesting to note that we have more 17 to 18-year-old boys playing than we have ever had before. We know there’s usually a drop-off at 16 and we’ve still got to look at that. We’re going through a situation at the moment where we’re looking at what our youth setup looks like.Is it under-18 or 19?
“We’ve been under-18 through the Covid period – has that made a difference? I don’t know but we’re going through that process at the moment. I think it’s a plus that we’ve got more of these players actually I keep looking back over the two years and the journey we’ve been on.We keep talking about the negatives but there are some massive positives here and we’ve still got a long way to go. a proper season yet but hopefully that will happen next year. “
The figures are coming during the WRU’s ‘Road To Principality’ series, which will see more than 2,500 players experience running out on the hallowed turf of the national stadium throughout April and into May. These come in the form of various age-grade, men’s and women’s competition finals.
The highlight of the series will be the WRU Nations Club Finals day on April 24, which will feature the climax of the WRU Championship Plate, Championship Cup and Premiership Cup finals. The WRU National Bowl, Shield and Plate finals will be played out the following weekend on April 30.