The Welsh Rugby Union is delighted to announce that Specsavers Opticians are to sponsor its Referees. In a four-year, six-figure deal, the biggest ever secured by the Union for its match officials, Specsavers will become the Official Referees Partner.
Referees will be seen in their newly sponsored kit for the first time when they take charge of the season's opening matches to be played on Friday evening.
"This new sponsorship deal is a huge boost," said Director of Referees, Clive Norling. "We are naturally delighted that Specsavers has undertaken this responsibility for the next four seasons. Spectators will also be pleased that at long last referees have taken their advice and joined forces with the UK`s largest opticians! Like all referees, I was subjected to humorous comments from the terraces on match days such as 'open your eyes ref, you're missing a great game.'"
This agreement therefore is not just a major financial boost but it is also
hoped that it will assist in bringing back to the terraces some traditional humour. Its timing is also of importance in that it comes at a time when the recruitment of referees is almost at crisis point. The Director of Referees naturally feels that it is of great concern that attendance figures for referee coaching courses are down by nearly 50 per cent.
"Verbal abuse hurled at referees by coaches and spectators has contributed hugely to the problem in that it turns potential referees away from taking up the whistle," said Norling.
"The recent attack on David McHugh, during the Tri-Nations clash in Durban, is a classic example of the abuse referees have to withstand. It is hoped that the partnership with Specsavers will encourage a swift return of the morehumorous comments aimed at referees, replacing the foul personal abuse that, sadly is nowadays hurled at match officials. Not only current but also future referees will benefit in many ways from the substantial investment that the company has made with the Welsh Rugby Union."
Chairman of the Union Glanmor Griffiths is equally up beat about the new deal. " This is yet another example of a well known company underlining their faith in our game," he said. "Without referees, we have no game, and so,to have a company who want to directly fund that aspect is a huge bonus. We are delighted to bring them on board to be part of a thriving modern professional game."
'Get your blinking eyes tested ref' placards will be distributed by Specsavers to fans as part of a programme of activities aimed at diffusing the hostility faced by many of today's referees.
Porthcawl recently received a WRU facilities grant and funding from Natwest RugbyForce in order to give their changing rooms a facelift. This came after receiving £10,000 in a WRU facilities grant last year to tarmac their car park. The improvements have already helped to make the club more accessible, not only for their own members and players but for the whole community.
The Welsh Rugby Union has launched a new, accredited Safeguarding and Protecting Children course - funded by the WRU and delivered in partnership with Sport Wales and the NSPCC - fo rugby club volunteers around Wales.
The SWALEC semi-final draws threw up some mouth-watering clashes in the Cup, Plate and Bowl as the 12 teams aim for the Millennium Stadium Finals Day. All the semi-finals are to be played on the weekend of April 12.
Welsh whistler Rhys Thomas continues to scale the heights of the game as he prepares to be an official in this weekend's Hong Kong Sevens tournament, undoubtedly the showpiece event on the World Series calendar.
Wales International Ian Evans and Wales and Lions legend Scott Quinnell swapped rugby balls for paint pots at Tonna during the RBS 6 Nations. They surprised club players with a special clubhouse makeover to launch NatWest RugbyForce 2014 - a programme developed in partnership with the WRU to make rugby clubs stronger businesses by improving and renovating their facilities with the support of volunteers and the local community.
Fresh from claiming the Bowl honours in Tokyo last Sunday, the Wales Sevens squad have settled into their routine as they prepare for this weekend's Hong Kong tournament where Iolo Evans is aiming high, as WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie discovers.