Our rugby Directorate are identifying players as young as 12 for prospective places in the Regional Academies and need to have continual input into their rugby development through to the age grade international teams. More importantly, they must be in a position to have a direct influence on their potential to ensure they make the very best of their talent.
As a result of this change, the major roles and responsibilities of the Welsh Youth Rugby Union, the Welsh Schools (Senior Group) and the Dragons Rugby Trust will be taken over by the professional staff at the Union's headquarters at Golate House.
The Welsh Rugby Union, as is revealed in the audited accounts contained in the 2003/2004 Annual Report, spends millions of pounds on developing the game in Wales. Last year alone Â£2,526,932 was spent by the Union on nurturing the grass roots of the game. However, no less than Â£1,456,120 of that developmental fund was given to Youth, Schools and DRT.
In the eight years in which the DRT has been in operation, the WRU has funded its work to the tune of almost Â£8m. Similarly, the Welsh Youth Rugby Union have received more than Â£2m in direct funding over the last seven years.
The WRU believe they should have a greater say in how the bulk of that money is spent. The duplication of costs, for things such as administration, travelling expenses, handbooks, caps, ties and audit fees, means there are huge opportunities to rationalise spending, save money and deliver a better service to the young players.
While recognising that those three bodies have carried out great work down the years, we feel the time has come to give the Union's professional staff the chance to have more direct influence on how the game in Wales is developed, grown and funded. By taking these steps we are convinced that money can be saved, greater harmony and efficiency can be created in the delivery of all services to this vital sector and better players will be created through the streamlining of international fixtures.
The WRU will now take complete control of delivering the programme of international fixtures at Under 18 level. The first step that has been taken in this regard is to merge the former Welsh Youth Under 18 and Welsh Schools Under 18 teams into one side. There were almost 65 players capped by those two bodies at Under 18 level last season.
The record of the Wales Youth Under 18 side over recent seasons makes impressive reading, while the Schools results have been mediocre. By coming together to form one team, and playing against top flight international age group sides that represent the full strength of their country at that age, the Union hopes to improve playing standards at the elite end of the game.
The WRU will assume complete responsibility for the work of the DRT. This means they will control the work of the 23 Development Officers, the District Junior Associations, Regional Age Grade Competitions, Training and Qualifications. The WRU will also be asking the DRT Trustees to work with them to prioritise the programmes where the Trust's reserve funds can be best utilised.
With regard to the Welsh Youth Rugby Union, the WRU stepped in to take over the running of that body following the decision by its Executive Committee to wind up its organisation.
The WYRU was originally set-up by the WRU on 11 May, 1949 to 'see that every youth in Wales is given the opportunity to play rugby union football, to provide good coaching, to look after the rugby welfare of young people and to promote a feeling of goodwill between the youth of Wales and the young men of other countries, both on and off the field'.
In order to meet these objectives the WYRU has been consistently funded by the WRU with separate grants to run both its international and community rugby programmes. The decision taken by the WYRU Executive Committee on 16 September to disband came in the wake of their refusal to sign-up to the WRU's 'National Age-Grade Agreement'. The proposed 'Agreement' covers the approval and payment terms of the WRU grant to fund the international development and competition programmes of the WYRU. In return, it sets out criteria for the WYRU to follow in its delivery of those programmes.
No reference was made in the document to the grant for the clubs in the community game. The WRU did not consider the criteria to be onerous, but in the best interests of the development of age-grade international players and their preparation as future professional players. This move is consistent with the WRU strategy to manage the elite end of the game and to ensure an holistic approach to the development of our potential professional and future international players. It is also consistent with the approach adopted by the other governing bodies in the Six Nations.
In the business environment in which the WRU now operates we cannot provide funding to any organisation which refuses to accept an undertaking to be accountable to the WRU for the management of those funds. Ultimately, this money belongs to the member clubs of the Union.
We have a number of major stakeholders in the WRU and they have to be satisfied with the propriety of our financial systems and controls. As a result of the decision by the WYRU not to sign the agreement, the WRU advised the Executive Committee of the WYRU that with immediate effect the WRU would assume responsibility for the delivery of the international programme formerly managed by the WYRU.
The original objectives of the WYRU were never under threat, nor compromised, by the National Age-Grade Agreement and the WRU regrets the decision of the WYRU to withdraw their support for the very objects for which they were created. However, the sustainability of youth rugby at grass-roots and community level is under no threat. The WRU will now assume full responsibility for the delivery of the original objectives of the WYRU and will deal directly with those clubs instead of through a third-party agency.
In order to handle their new work load, the WRU have recruited their former Administration and Ticket Office Manager Peter Owens to co-ordinate youth club rugby. In addition, a management and coaching teams for the new Wales Under 18 team will be appointed at the end of the month.