A new rugby development structure aimed at strengthening the elite player pathway into the Wales team has been unveiled by the Group Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, Roger Lewis.
The new map of rugby represents a talent structure which is geared to deliver participation and progress from the grass roots level right up to the national squad.
It means that all the structures and systems put in place by Warren Gatland and his national coaching team will be aligned to similar methods used and taught throughout the rest of the game in Wales.
At the core of the new structure is the national coaching team headed up by Warren Gatland and his world class support group of coaches, conditioners, analysts, physiotherapists and medical back-up.
Now, for the first time, that structure is aligned to a complimentary team tasked with ensuring all the latest methods and systems are utilised throughout the entire development pathway of Welsh rugby.
In practice it means that Warren Gatland liaises closely with the new WRU National Coach Development Manager , John Schropfer, and also takes an active role in key rugby appointments such as age grade coaches.
The national squad conditioning team, with Craig White the latest world renowned appointment, liaises with the National Performance Manager, Huw Wiltshire.
Outside the national squad all the rugby roles will be managed by the new Head of Rugby Development who will ensure all the strategies and methods link into one goal which will be defined by the cutting edge systems used by the national squad.
The new structure now being finalised is part of a raft of key initiatives unveiled by Roger Lewis to build on the Grand Slam success of 2008.
In the new Welsh Rugby Union Group Annual Report he outlines a series of challenging aims to be delivered in the year ahead and beyond.
He has promised:-
- more investment in the community game.
- implementation of the three rugby reviews on the elite and community games and the Premiership Division
- initiatives to develop rugby in North Wales
- a new focus on schools rugby to develop this vital sector
- a planned succession policy at all levels in the WRU
- a continued review of the new events strategy for the Millennium Stadium which will review our deal structure and our approach to content creation and promoters
- continue our estate development around the Millennium Stadium
- conclude the new commercial arrangements for our hospitality and events in the Stadium
- deliver a range of new internal integrated financial, commercial and ticketing systems
- enhance our promotional media content
- advance a new agreement with our broadcast partners
- develop our Welsh Language Policy
- create a brand strategy for the Welsh Rugby Union and the Millennium Stadium
- deliver new training facilities for our national squads
- advance succession planning across all of the Group
Roger Lewis said: "At the heart of the work now taking place is the major restructure of the rugby development pathway which is virtually complete.
"All our coaching and management systems will be aligned going forward to ensure that a recognised and coherent pathway for participation in the game and talent development continues to mature.
"We must share one vision and work in unity to achieve our aims in a way which keeps us ahead of the competition in this professional era.
"We have already delivered a Grand Slam, but the focus now will be to continue to nurture the raw talent and develop the player base we need to sustain our success."
He said a key motivating force for the systems and strategies being adopted in Welsh rugby is the world class coaching team now in place.
He added: "We have put in place one of the best coaching teams in world rugby for our national squad and that is now the benchmark for the whole of Welsh rugby going forward.
"Across the organisation we are putting the right people in place to deliver results and we also want to make sure we are nurturing and developing individuals who can step forward and continue that work.
"We want to achieve success today while making sure we put in place strong foundations for continued success in the future.
"When I say rugby is our national sport which defines us as a nation I genuinely believe we have a vital role to play in the culture and psyche of Wales.
"For rugby to thrive at the heart of all our communities we have to ensure the sport is run in ways which boost participation, nurtures talent and encapsulates all our values and aims.
"The year ahead will be challenging, but I promise that we will not be diverted from the priorities we have already identified. We now work to a five year strategy and, as an organisation, we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve."
Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland praised his own coaching team and the new WRU rugby development structure which aligns Welsh rugby into one cohesive force.
He said: "Here in Wales we have recruited a coaching team across all the disciplines which features individuals with world class reputations.
"Although they will focus on the national team their expertise is also being used throughout the wider game.
"A good example of that is how our conditioners, Craig White and Mark Bennett, are working with the Regions.
"I have a close working relationship with the National Coaching Manager, John Schropfer, so we are constantly identifying and monitoring the talent here in Wales.
"When we need new coaches within the regional or national system it would be ideal to have Welsh talent in place, but we also have to be aware that the best person available for a particular role could be a foreigner.
It will be a case of balancing our aim of developing and mentoring Welsh coaches while also benefitting from the skills available elsewhere.
"Just as I advocate limiting the number of foreign players to a few with special talents there will also be advantages and benefits from learning from the best outsiders in some circumstances.
"Within any succession policy we will have to be mindful of the best choice for Wales whenever the time comes."
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.