The Welsh Rugby Union has announced a series of major initiatives aimed at the continued development of the game in North Wales in line with the strategic plan for the area as a development Region
The proposals include launching a North Wales Rugby Academy and an innovative plan to introduce Rugby Canada international players to the development region's representative team.
The WRU has been working with partners including Rugby Canada and the IRB, and subject to approval from the Board of Rugby Canada next month, this proposal will be launched in January 2010.
The Board of the Welsh Rugby Union has also awarded club status to the Gogledd Cymru representative team in order to allow the side to develop strategically within the governance of the WRU.
Under the WRU and Rugby Canada initiative, it is proposed that a number of players, funded by Canada, will be based in north Wales to play for the region.
They will form the basis of the representative squad which will be completed with individuals from within north Wales.
The scheme is projected to last for up to five years and the number of Canadians in north Wales will be reduced year on year as the academy system delivers more quality players into the north Wales system.
The initiative is designed to offer the north Wales team an opportunity to compete for a chance to achieve Premiership status within a realistic time-scale.
The plan is linked to existing developments which include the identification of Parc Eirias in Colwyn Bay as the home base of the club with the full support of Conwy County Borough Council. It will also be the home of the new North Wales Rugby Academy.
A non-profitable Cooperative Community Interest Company has been established to maximise financial and operational support for the development of representative rugby.
The North Wales Rugby Academy will provide a focus for a sustainable pathway for players and coaches in north Wales which builds on existing development programmes within the region.
That means the major areas of player development including all technical, tactical, psychological, physical and lifestyle support will be fully available and operational within the North Wales Rugby Academy programme.
The Welsh Rugby Union has described the initiatives as a clear indication of the desire to maximise the development of all players, coaches and match officials from North Wales as outlined in the WRU strategic plan.
The Rugby Canada Board meets in September where the financial aspects of the initiative to bring Canadian internationals to Wales will be looked at in depth.
The scheme is also seen as a means to help Rugby Canada utilise the WRU structure to develop its own current international player base.
WRU Head of Rugby, Performance and Development Joe Lydon said, "These measures have been put in place in order to accelerate the progression of Rygbi Gogledd Cymru as a team, and the identification and development of rugby in North Wales.
"Bringing young, Canadian squad players to North Wales will enable the north Wales team to be a competitive, semi-professional level side almost immediately. It will enable attractive fixtures to take place at Parc Eirias, which will hopefully help to increase the interest and participation levels in rugby in North Wales.
"Our aim throughout this is to raise the standard of rugby players in north Wales for the long term and the establishment of an academy in north Wales will help to identify and nurture that talent for the future, while at the same time, they will be exposed to a high standard of competitive rugby.
"There will also be a clear benefit to Canada, a development rugby nation."
Peredur Jenkins, WRU Board member for north Wales said:
"The north Wales rugby community welcomes these exciting and innovative plans. They will provide an opportunity for north Wales based players to achieve their full potential within the region. The flow of players from this region to the national teams at all levels will undoubtedly increase. These developments are the result of a close working partnership between the WRU, North Wales Rugby Council, Conwy Borough County Council and the Gogledd Cymru CIC - all parties striving to fulfill the strategies and goals of the WRU's Strategic Plan for North Wales."
WRU Group Chief Executive Roger Lewis said "Rugby is the national sport of Wales. It defines us as a nation. The strategy for Rygbi Gogledd Cymru is vitally important not only for our rugby development but also for the unity of Wales."
Rygbi Gogledd Cymru chairman Kenton Morgan said:
"Being recognised as a club is another step in our implementation of the WRU strategic plan.
"Conwy County Borough Council's support in the development of Parc Eirias and the consequent regeneration potential for Colwyn Bay has been of tremendous benefit to this relationship. This new WRU plan fits our innovative approach to the progression of north Wales rugby and dovetails the needs of Gogledd Cymru with those of Rugby Canada.
"Canadian players will benefit massively from these high quality fixtures and the rugby culture of the region, which although less well recognised, is just as passionate, as that in other areas of Wales. They will be young men, away from home and we look forward to welcoming them into the team and to facilitating mutual rugby development and friendships."
Cllr Dilwyn Roberts, Leader, Conwy County Borough Council said, "This is a very exciting announcement for rugby in north Wales. We are delighted to be part of the project and we believe it will help to inspire and encourage more young people to participate and will help develop the sport in the region."
IRB Head of Development and Performance Mark Egan said, "This is an excellent initiative which will offer young players from both nations the opportunity to achieve their full potential and, if approved in full, will clearly benefit rugby in both Wales and Canada."
Geraint John, High Performance Director, Rugby Canada said, "We are excited and hopeful this project will be able to proceed because of the clear benefits it will deliver to both Wales and Canada by helping to develop our young players."
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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