The number of girls playing rugby in Wales has soared according to new figures released, with almost 10,000 secondary female pupils now engaged in rugby.
From a very modest starting point when school club hub officers were first introduced in Wales (less than 200 female players in the 43 original hubs), 9,911 girls from the 93 schools and colleges with a full-time hub officer played rugby during the last academic year.
In addition, more than 3,000 girls played regular rugby at one of the 28 girls-only cluster centres around Wales during the last two spring-summer seasons.
The most successful cluster age group, bucking the trend of many sports is Under 15 and many players who only began playing rugby at a cluster in the last 18 months are now representing their region (eg 11 Jesters are in the Dragons U18 squad).
With more girls playing rugby at school and at clusters, there are also now more female club teams and players in Wales (U15, U18 and senior) and a pathway for girls is now a fully integrated part of mini and junior club rugby.
Initial feedback from those involved in the game paved the way for the establishment of the summer clusters and after a successful two years, the Welsh Rugby Union has launched a new survey – www.wru.wales/shapeourgame2 and a series of consultation exercises in order to take the female game to the next level.
It looks at all issues affecting women and girls’ rugby such as match formats, the season, clusters, club rugby and training and match days.
WRU National Manager, Women’s and Girls, Caroline Spanton said: “We are thrilled with the response we’ve had from girls all over Wales to take up the opportunities provided to play all formats of rugby both within the school environment and outside school at cluster centres and clubs.
“The girls-only opportunity has made a real difference in terms of the perception of the sport and one of the biggest successes has been the number of U13-U15 girls participating regularly in cluster rugby.
“This bucks the nation-wide trend for teenage girls to drop out of sport but in contrast, we are seeing, and parents are seeing girls’ self-esteem thriving, the girls feel included and part of something special.
“To see the enjoyment on the faces of the girls – and their parents – whether they are participating in under 9s tag rugby at a cluster or school festival – or progressing to play for their region – is phenomenal.
“While we are happy with the progress so far, we are very conscious that there are challenges in the club game particularly and there is still huge potential to grow the female game in Wales.
“I would urge anyone who has anything to do with women and girls’ rugby in Wales – players, parents, coaches and supporters – to complete the Shape Our Game 2 survey. The beauty of our situation is that we can all make a real difference and make changes if needed in order to ensure that female rugby thrives in Wales.”
Jenna Hughes, who first played rugby at her hub school – Tredegar Comprehensive and cluster last season, is now in the Dragons U18 squad along with a number of her Jesters team mates. She believes she has found a real home in rugby.
“I just love rugby,” she said. “The other sports girls play just didn’t suit me but I’ve really found my family in rugby. I now coach the Jesters U9s and continue to play for Jesters U18s. I thoroughly enjoy coaching and being part of developing younger players.”