A new WRU scheme will ensure careers continue after rugby for Wales' stars
The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has launched a Professional Player Development Programme to support the future aspirations of all professional Welsh rugby players upon retirement from the game.
We want to enable lifelong success as opposed to just playing success. We are trying to offer the players a 40- year career, 15 of which will be playing rugby and the other 25 doing something else.
The initiative will provide a pipeline of talented leaders into Welsh industry as well helping to increase retention of players within Wales during their playing careers.
The programme consists of five elements including mentoring - provided by senior leaders from business and sport - psychometric testing to help determine future job compatibility and performance, support to obtain academic qualifications, work placements, and financial management and advice.
Welsh national age grade sides, women and all regional professional players will be covered by the scheme in future and, resource permitting, the WRU is also currently looking to support recently returned Welsh players where possible.
"We have been clear about our desire to retain talented players in Wales and this programme is part of our commitment to that goal," said WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips.
"A rugby player's career is relatively short compared to that of somebody in more traditional employment and we feel we have a duty of care to ensure a successful playing career is followed by a successful career post retirement from the game."
The WRU has agreements in place with the majority of Welsh universities, as well as other further education establishments, to provide access to education and training on a part time basis as part of the programme and the scheme will eventually extend down to regional players, women and into the academies.
Many senior leaders from the worlds of business and sport have already signed up to the mentoring part of the programme, with the Union appealing for further interested parties in Wales to get in touch and join the scheme.
"We went right to the top and asked the Universities if we could send players their way, asked that they be flexible about the players' time when they are still playing, and for them to help facilitate the whole process - we were warmly received," said Phillips.
"There are up to 300 careers available, everything from the traditional trades like bricklaying and plumbing to those that require academic qualifications like accountancy, law and medicine and we are appealing for new mentors from Welsh business to come forward.
"We see our players demonstrate courage, integrity, dedication and team work week-in-week out on the pitch.
"These are characteristics which are valuable in any modern business environment and I am confident that any player who embarks on the programme will be a huge asset to any organisation.
"With the level of drive the players show, their leadership and resilience as international sportsmen, they are very likely to be successful in their careers.
"We want to enable lifelong success as opposed to just playing success. We are trying to offer the players a 40- year career, 15 of which will be playing rugby and the other 25 doing something else."
The Welsh senior international squad were told of the plans - warmly welcomed by Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton, the coach and captain - at a recent meeting.
Phillips has also spoken to many ex-Welsh Internationals who have helped reinforce the need for such an initiative.
And the WRU has set up a new department and solid structures to lead players into new careers of all sorts when their active playing careers end.
"Rugby should not mean that you have a decent career then we throw you to the wolves," he added.
"We are trying to take away the pressure on players and their families when they are trying to earn it all when still playing.
"We are going to be working on the next thing in which they can be successful, the next thing that gives them a buzz."
The Half a Game initiative is currently sweeping across Wales and proving a major success. The scheme aims to give every young player at least half a game every weekend. WRU TV recently visited a festival in Narberth where clubs have fully embraced the initiative.
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