A major boost for plans to develop rugby in North Wales has been announced with the selection of a new base for the Gogledd Cymru team which is being tasked with taking the game to a new elite level in the region.
Gogledd Cymru will establish Parc Eirias in Colwyn Bay as its main home ground with the support of Conwy County Borough Council.
A joint project board involving the local authority, members of the North Wales Rugby Council, the Welsh Rugby Union and Rygbi Gogledd Cymru has been set up to establish the structure and operational capacity of the Gogledd Cymru team and its headquarters.
The project board will work alongside a WRU working party which has been set up to report on how the Gogledd Cymru team will be developed.
The working party will consider how best to develop the existing Gogledd Cymru team to meaningful competition which will deliver a firm pathway for elite players seeking to establish careers as rugby professionals.
The project board will now assess how the Parc Eirias venue can best be established as the home of Gogledd Cymru to create maximum impact on rugby in the region.
This will include how to market the team, create a business plan and help nurture players within the WRU development and academy systems.
WRU Board representative for North Wales, Peredur Jenkins, said: "The establishment of Parc Eirias as the headquarters for Gogledd Cymru is a significant step forward.
"Parc Eirias is a perfect location with excellent road links via the A55 which will ensure supporters from all over north Wales will be able to get to the games.
"I want to thank Conwy County Borough Council for their help and support which will help us realise our ambitions to establish elite rugby in North Wales."
WRU Chairman, David Pickering, said: "This is an extremely positive step forward which will help realise our ambitions for elite rugby in North Wales.
"I know our Board representative, Peredur Jenkins, and his colleagues on the North Wales Rugby Council have worked extremely hard to get where we are today and I want to thank Conwy County Borough Council for the support they are giving this project.
"Parc Eirias has massive potential as a rugby venue and I look forward to watching some great games here in the near future.
"There are some 3,000 rugby players in the north and we must nurture and develop all the talent that represents.
"Now the WRU working party and the Project Board will be able to focus and redouble their efforts to win wider support from the public and the commercial sector to make this a great and sustainable success."
WRU President, Dennis Gethin added: "North Wales has a proud history of developing great players and I am now confident that heritage is in safe hands.
"You only have to consider people like Robin McBryde, the Moore brothers and the likes of Dewi Bebb to know that Welsh rugby needs a powerful and robust elite structure in the north.
"We all share a vision for what can be achieved and I know we have the right people working together to achieve our goals."
Conwy Council's Leader, Cllr Dilwyn Roberts said: "We are delighted to welcome the Gogledd Cymru team to Colwyn Bay and hope that this will be a great boost for rugby in north Wales. We're particularly eager to see more young people participating in sport and we believe that bringing high profile games to the area will inspire and encourage youngsters."
"We're planning to work closely with the other north Wales authorities to ensure that any regeneration and economic opportunities that arise from this scheme can benefit the whole region."
WRU Group Chief Executive Roger Lewis visited Parc Eirias in October of this year to meet with Conwy County Borough Council and said, "Developing rugby in North Wales is not only critical for all of Welsh rugby but also in supporting the economic ambitions of the region.
"I was deeply impressed by the commitment of Conwy County Borough Council to develop rugby in their area and moreover, took great heart from the impressive facilities they already have in place at Parc Eirias. The future looks very positive indeed."
Gogledd Cymru team manager Kenton Morgan said:
"These developments could not have been achieved without the commitment of the clubs, players and coaches in the north Wales Region. Parc Eirias is part of the process of providing rugby players, referees and supporters with the opportunity to experience top class rugby in the region. It is exciting to see the rugby dreams of north Wales becoming a reality."
Vaughan Jones, Chairman North Wales Rugby Council (NWRC) said:
"This project is a milestone in the history of the development of rugby in north Wales. It will be a stepping stone to a semi-pro team in our region and provide a pathway for our players to professional and national honours, which is every aspiring rugby player's dream. Seven of our Gogledd Cymru under 16 team have this week been selected in the Wales national u16 training squad - this is directly due to the WRU decision this season to include a Gogledd Cymru team and thus give our youngsters exposure in the national age grade championship."
"This project will boost our capacity to provide players for national selection. Wales is a small country and we in north Wales which covers 50% of the area and nearly a third (1m) in population are eager to play an increasing effective role in providing quality players to the Welsh cause. The positive spin-off opportunities on offer to players in our clubs and communities throughout the region are huge and I applaud the WRU for recognising the potential here, and Conwy Council for their vision and commitment to this project which will benefit the whole region."
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.