Welsh Rugby Union General Manager Steve Lewis said: "We are extremely grateful to all our partners in this bid - The Welsh Assembly Government, and Coleg Gwent who helped in the construction of our application and who, along with Coleg Glan Hafren, Coleg Sir Gar and Neath Port Talbot College are our training partners in this bid.
"It is widely accepted that successful professional sport can directly contribute to a nation's economy and this project recognises the importance professional rugby can have in Wales:
- it instils confidence in the nation and lifts aspirations (not just in sport)
- it puts Wales on the European and world stage, raising awareness about the country internationally
- it encourages sports tourism (visiting teams, fans) and repeat visits starting from these sport visits
- it motivates individuals to participate in sport and recreation, thereby encouraging a healthier Wales.
"This project will establish a structure within Wales which will support the development of our rugby industry as a sustainable, professional industry capable of contributing significantly to the Welsh economy.
"The project will enable us to establish four regional academies to deliver a strict holistic approach to a training structure for our elite young rugby players, which is essential in equipping the industry with a formal qualifications framework to strengthen and sustain the industry. It will provide the individuals with full rounded training, including transferable skills such as IT and key skills.
"This will ensure that they have the skills and options to either move into a professional rugby playing career, a coaching or linked career within the industry or alternative options whilst playing for a semi-professional or amateur club. This will ensure the standards are raised both on and off the pitch and at all levels in the sport."
The academies will have the responsibility for educating and training the potential lite player - they will not field any specific competing teams. There are four geographic academies linking to the regional structure of professional rugby and a fifth serving the women's game on an all-Wales basis.
The project will target 270 beneficiaries - 250 trainees and 20 coaches, of which approximately 31 are women. With the Objective 1 award match funding the costs of our Regional Community Development Managers and Regional Player Development Managers along with other personnel and running costs, the Welsh Rugby Union will be able to employ four regional academy managers and an additional seven coaches - four regional conditioning coaches and three central resource coaches, plus a Women's Academy Co-ordinator.
Andrew Davies, Minister for Economic Development and Transport said: "Wales in the 21st Century is vastly different to Wales of just a few years ago. Our innovative and successful use of the European Structural Funds programme is creating opportunities for tens of thousands of individuals and whole communities across Wales.
"We have raised our game as a country and developed a confidence to create a prosperous economy with a sustainable future.
"I am therefore delighted that we are supporting this important project, which will have such a major impact on the future of rugby in Wales. Not only will this project identify the rugby players of tomorrow, but will help to instil a professional confidence to enable these young players to raise their game to the very highest standard."
Lynda Roberts, Vice Principal (Finance & Information Services), Coleg Gwent added: "We are delighted that the proposals have won the backing of the Assembly Government's Objective 1 programme. We look forward to sharing our expertise and that of the other partner colleges for the benefit of individuals and Welsh rugby.
Flexible training and learning will equip the potential professional player with the skills needed to sustain them as rugby players and beyond their playing career. By strengthening the training structure, this partnership can provide strong foundations for the professional development of the Welsh rugby industry. Sporting success and skilled individuals have the potential to make a significant contribution to the Welsh economy."
What is an Academy?
An integrated support service for young elite players
- Managed by professional staff, appointed between WRU and the Region
- Rugby development and playing commitments of academy players controlled by relevant Academy Manager
- Individual player track and analysis
- Individual programmes based on the player's individual needs
- Skills coaching - individual and unit skill development
- Conditioning - fitness, strength & power, and testing procedures
- Education on nutrition
- Sports Psychology, for example goal-setting and imagery
- Performance & Lifestyle advice - education, vocation, values and lifestyle management
- Medical support and insurance advice
In essence, the Academy will give total professional advice and guidance as to how the individual can achieve his/her potential as a person ON and OFF the field of play. Finally, the Academy offers its staff the opportunity to work with elite players; to fully extend themselves and to follow a top class Continual Professional Development programme that is designed to improve both the staff members and his/her charges.
Although the project is principally addressing the men's elite game, it recognises that women's rugby is a fast growing sport in Wales and the position of women within the professional and semi-professional game will also be addressed and improved, through its inclusion in the structure.
This aims to raise the profile of women in the industry and demonstrate the role they have to play in this developing industry. To reflect this, the project will employ a national women's academy co-ordinator to ensure the template for training standards are also adopted by the women's sector and provide training for the growing all-Wales Women's academy.
The Welsh Rugby Union's initiative directly reflects the Assembly's 'Climbing Higher' sport and recreation strategy. 'Climbing Higher' states the following aims which also form an integral part of the thinking and process behind the Welsh Rugby Industry Project:
- "Wales needs systematic and sustainable success in the sports that matter most to us..
- "Men's and women's rugby union teams will have achieved a sustainable position in the top 5 of world rankings..
- "International sporting success boosts our national self esteem. By doing well & . we can enhance our international profile in the best way possible..
- "Supporting the effective organisation of sport at all levels..
- "Use public investment to help to provide a strong talent identification and development pathway for athletes wherever they live in Wales, focused on priority sports. Support the establishment of world-class national academy facilities for rugby and football..
- "Encourage the development and improvement of regional academies that maximise the education sector and community links to professional sports clubs and elite sports facilities."
In conclusion, the ethos behind the project, in addition to the benefits to the individuals and the Welsh economy, is that improved players will be produced to feed through into the national team, thus supporting "Climbing Higher".
This will be done by developing individuals who are able to make informed decisions on and off the pitch. The project is essential in the major restructuring process underway in Welsh rugby.