Girls’ rugby in Wales is enjoying a huge explosion of interest and participation. The number of girls playing rugby in one of the 95 schools and colleges with full-time hub officers has gone from less than 200 to almost 10,000 in the last three years.
These are just some of the thoughts of parents whose daughters have found rugby in recent years.
“She’s grown in confidence”, “she’s made a new family of friends”, “she feels a valued part of a team”, “it’s been an amazing and positive experience”, “improved fitness”, “a sense of belonging”, “this has brought us together as a family”, “I’ve gained a new hobby too by attending rugby fitness.”
Outside school, girls-only cluster centres are now in their third spring-summer season and are going from strength to strength.
This season there are even more opportunities for girls to participate with 32 clusters around Wales and the age range offered at clusters has been increased to cater for the demand from girls to play rugby in communities around Wales. Clusters are now open to all girls from under 7s to under 18s.
Clusters adopt a ‘stage not age’ ethos where some girls may want to continue to play purely non-contact, tag and touch rugby while others will want to go on to play contact rugby. The clusters meet all those needs, providing a ‘pick & mix’ range of opportunities to cater for a whole range of interests and abilities.
Last summer, more than 3000 girls regularly participated at one of the community clusters around Wales. This year already, over 90per cent of those girls have re-registered and with new players in all age groups plus the new younger and older age groups, early indications are that we are set for another year of growth for cluster rugby.
Thirty per cent of last season’s participants were in the u15 age group which bucks nation-wide trends for teenage girls, who, historically, drop out of sport and physical activity around this age.
A huge amount of work has been carried out during the off-season, particularly by the cluster volunteers and the WRU Game Changers for Women and Girls, to strengthen and consolidate the cluster structures. This includes the recruitment of cluster developers to support and engage the volunteer base including cluster leads, coaches and safeguarding officers through training.
To meet demand, a calendar of festivals has been set up for all regions so girls can play against other clusters in their chosen format of the game
WRU Women and Girls’ Engagement Manager Charlotte Wathan said, “We know that girls thrive in a fun, friendly environment and the concept of girls-only cluster rugby during the summer months has clearly met a strong demand from girls to engage with rugby.
“We have listened to girls, parents and volunteers by increasing the age range and geography of the opportunities to be part of a cluster and will maintain the ‘pick & mix’ variety of rugby formats on offer at clusters, regardless of age.”
Stradey Sospans is a thriving cluster in Llanelli with more than 100 girls training on a weekly basis. Some Sospans have already gone on to play for Scarlets U18s while many others are new to rugby this season.
Sospans’ cluster lead Jamie Hudson said, “We make sure the sessions are fun and enjoyable, the girls make friends, gain a huge amount of confidence and learn new skills, but first and foremost, they are always smiling.
“We are now into our third season and we are getting stronger each year. The demand was always there in the area for girls to play rugby and the clusters are providing a pathway into club and regional rugby.”
After the three North Wales clusters – the Ravens, Rebels and Mor Ladron – introduced additional ‘satellite’ centres last season, six of those satellites have established as clusters in their own right – Mon Stars on Anglesey, Ceirw Nant based at Nant Conwy, Y Celtaid in Pwllheli, Dreigiau’r Glannau in Abergele, Valkyries in Shotton and Meirionnydd. There is also a new cluster based in Aberavon – the Talbot Reds.
Dave Roberts, North Wales Game Changer for Women and Girls added, “The addition of satellite centres last year proved to us that we needed more provision in North Wales in order to capitalise on the enormous appetite that has been shown for girls’ rugby in our schools and through our summer cluster offering.
“We have now given our satellites their own identity, and empowered local management groups to develop them in a bid to ensure their success and sustainability.
“We have already seen almost as many girls at our clusters in the first few weeks of this season as we did in the entire summer last year, and I’m certain that will continue to grow as word of the fun and vibrant environment continues to spread”.
WRU Head of Rugby Participation Ryan Jones added, “It is our aim to ensure that everyone who wishes to engage with our game has a positive experience.
“We know that clusters are a fun way of getting involved in rugby and ensuring that girls have the opportunity to access the health, social and emotional benefits we know rugby brings to individuals, families and communities.”
Go to wru.wales/girlsrugby to find your nearest cluster. There is always a warm welcome for new players.