By David Williams
Aled Thomas has called on the Welsh Rugby Union to invest more in their sevens programme – rather than go for the money saving option of amalgamating with England and Scotland.
All three Unions are looking at ways of cutting costs at the moment and one of the latest ideas is to combine the three sevens teams into one GB team to play on the World Sevens Series circuit. Team GB already plays at the Olympic Games every four years.
But Thomas, who famously helped Wales to win the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens title in Dubai, believes reducing the opportunities for young players to develop on the circuit could be counter-productive.
“It might appear to make financial sense to look into amalgamating with the English and Scottish teams to form a GB team to play on the World Sevens circuit, but it would be a huge loss to the development of players in Wales,” said former Scarlets star Thomas.
“What we’ve needed for some time is greater investment in the sevens programme in Wales, rather than the drop off we’ve seen. We’ve been playing at it in recent years and our standards have fallen away as a result.
“Joining forces with England and Scotland would mean fewer opportunities for young Welsh players to learn how to become elite professional athletes. There are so many senior Welsh internationals who have benefitted from playing sevens.
“Your skills, fitness and defence all improve and, most importantly, you learn how to conduct yourself in an international environment. The benefits from greater investment could be massive.”
Thomas cites New Zealand as the classic example in how to make the most of the system. They have brought dozens of young players through their ranks and helped turn them into All Blacks.
“The biggest problem with combining the three teams is how will you break into the squad? Will there be a quota system, or will you have to get in on merit?” he added.
“You might find there is no place for young players to get experience because everyone involved is a sevens specialist who earns their living from only playing the small sided game.
“It would mean making a decision on whether you are going to be a 7s or 15s player at a very young age.
“It would also have an impact on Wales playing at the Commonwealth Games. If we can’t qualify for that it would be a great shame.
“It would also be a complete waste of time to send a side to such a prestigious event like that without any previous experience. This is a big decision to take and I hope they realise what is at stake.”