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6 Nations

New Year message from WRU chair

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Welsh Rugby Union chair Richard Collier-Keywood writes to all member clubs in gratitude for the dedication of all members of the Welsh rugby family during 2023 and to welcome the New Year and new beginnings for the game in Wales.

The new WRU chair, who was appointed in July, has already worked with the WRU Board to fully implement the changes to the Board promised at the EGM last March in the short time he has been in office.

He announces, today, together with Sport Wales, the appointment of Dame Anne Rafferty as chair of a new External Oversight Group which will help the Union complete its commitment to implement the recommendations of its recent Independent Review.

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He also takes the opportunity to congratulate incoming CEO Abi Tierney, who starts on 8th January, on receipt of a CB in the New Year’s honours list, but his central message is to thank everyone who has contributed to Welsh rugby over the last year:

WELSH RUGBY UNION CHAIR’S NEW YEAR MESSAGE:

“As we look forward to a New Year in Welsh rugby, I sincerely thank all members of the extended rugby family in Wales who have worked so hard in support of our sport in 2023.

There are many.

  • Volunteers in our community game up and down the country that support our clubs and their teams.
  • Players, be they amateur or professional, female or male that enjoy the challenge of our amazing sport and are role models to young people throughout Wales.
  • Those involved in our regional teams that play such an important role in increasing the quality of rugby across our country.
  • Coaches and referees who work tirelessly to improve our players and the game that we love.
  • Supporters who regularly turn out to see matches from internationals to regional games and local derbies – we simply could not make rugby happen without you.
  • Our sponsors and partners – you have been vital to us surviving and thriving in 2023; and finally all those who work at the WRU and have given their all in what must, at times, have seemed like a very difficult year.

Thank you all. These are our people, our rugby family, we are grateful for all that you do and we are proud of you particularly when you act selflessly in the name of rugby and help us maintain the values which sustain us.

Without negating all of the hugely positive things that have happened in 2023, both on the pitch and off it, I think we will all agree, that the WRU has had a year to forget in many ways.

We won’t let the issues we have faced define us, but we will learn from them.

We have already done so and are progressing at pace with a new governance structure now in place and the recommendations from the Dame Anne Rafferty-led Independent Review setting out a hugely positive roadmap for the future for us, both culturally and from a governance perspective.

With this in mind I’m delighted to announce that, together with Sport Wales, we have invited Dame Anne to lead the External Oversight Group which will monitor and assess our progress against the recommendations of the Independent Review over the next three years.

newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, Abi Tierney, who begins her work on the 8th January.

Dame Anne’s presence provides the gravitas and the consistency of thought and analysis necessary to hold us to account in our progress at pace and she will be joined by two further independent members in the New Year.

We have asked Sport Wales and Dame Anne to help and advise with these appointments as they are so important to us. This is the advisory body which will ensure we remain on the course to a successful evolution which we have set.

Another important addition to the WRU’s team for 2024 is our newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, Abi Tierney, who begins her work on the 8th January.

She joins us from the Home Office, where she has been one of the most senior civil servants in Westminster. Her impact has been such that she received a CB (Companion of the Order of Bath) for services to the Crown in the New Year’s honour’s list.

She was also voted in 16th place in a list of 50 of the most influential women in world sport by the Daily Telegraph just last week. What a prediction! We have committed our support to Abi to ensure she succeeds in her new role!

We congratulate Abi on her achievements in 2023 and welcome her to Welsh rugby in 2024. It’s important to look forward to what you can expect from the WRU in 2024. I outlined some of this in my AGM speech last November:

  • Firstly, delivering a One Wales – joined up rugby approach
  • Secondly, creating a strategy for the WRU’s support of Welsh rugby and making more money to invest in the professional and community games
  • Thirdly, encouraging an inclusive culture
  • Fourthly Completing the work on the women’s strategy and investing in the women’s game in Wales
  • Fifthly, investing in the welfare of our players
  • And finally, further improvements to our governance

So, turning to One Wales – my first act as Chair was to invite Nigel Walker to become Executive Director of Rugby. I hope that this was and is an important signal that, in order to be successful, we need an approach to Welsh rugby that reaches across the whole game and will hopefully join up what we do from community clubs to the elite game.

We are committed to building improved relationships with regions and community clubs that should help with this process. We are working on our plan, we will publish this in the spring of 2024 and we will be accountable for its delivery. We need to work together across the regions and clubs to deliver a One Wales plan. A key part of this will be ensuring that rugby in Wales is put on a sound and sustainable footing so we can invest in the game and the communities that support it across Wales.

The goals of this plan are clear for our national teams – men’s, women’s and age grade – need to compete with the best in the world. For this to be achieved we need strong domestic teams and a pathway that includes our clubs with a passionate and inclusive fan base.

Secondly, the one consistent theme I have heard is – the WRU does not have a strategy. This is one of the board and executive’s immediate priorities but this will not be a strategy that we will dream up in a darkened room. I know Abi, Nigel and the rest of the executive are committed to consulting widely externally to ensure that the strategy gets the best possible input and I hope that many of you reading this will have an opportunity to.

Thirdly, we need to welcome everyone to enjoy our game. And we need to look at the current barriers and behaviours that may be making it difficult for all to feel safe and welcome. In particular, women need to be welcomed as equals on the field and in our clubs. We all need to be role models and be careful in our language and behaviours that we don’t deter people from different backgrounds, cultures or experiences to ourselves from our game. We cannot tolerate anything else!

Fourth, we need to complete our strategy for the development of the women’s game and invest more in the women’s game. We are looking for further growth and development for Wales Women’s senior international side, on the pitch under the expert guidance of head coach Ioan Cunningham, but also off it with a magnificent opportunity for Welsh fans to show how much this side means to them when they make their stand-alone debut at Principality Stadium against Italy in April 2024.

Wales Women will play a stand alone international at Principality Stadium against Italy in April

The current record for attendance at a Wales Women’s international match was set last year at Cardiff Arms Park when just under 9,000 supporters attended, I hope that this will be blown apart for the match against Italy at Principality Stadium – secure your ticket now!!

Fifth area – We need to ensure that our game is as safe as possible. Parents should not be worried about their children playing. We also need to look after all of our professional players in Wales, recognising that they have a relatively short period of earnings from the game.

Finally, governance. Firstly, the recent Independent Review makes it clear that we should let the changes from last March, that we have just implemented, bed in for a while. We will do this during 2024 and 2025 and then commission a further independent external review to assess how it is going and see what adjustments we need to make.

We all want to be better. The recommendations of the Independent Review give us a roadmap to be better and we will be better together.

We are the union of rugby clubs and we depend on and serve the clubs in Wales that keep Welsh rugby vibrant in many towns and villages across Wales.

I also want to welcome our new President Terry Cobner. I am looking forward to working with him over the next few years.

I have learned that rugby is like a family in Wales – people care deeply and are passionate and that is an amazing asset to the game. We don’t all agree and that’s fine, providing we debate issues and agree to go in the same direction! Welsh rugby is a massively valuable brand and its value increases as we are unified in what we do.

The WRU exists only to serve rugby in Wales and channel money into the professional and community games.

Next year, we expect to make important improvements to Principality Stadium which will align our iconic national stadium even further with Sustainable Development Goals and the Welsh Government’s own future well-being goals.

Wales senior men begin the international calendar in Cardiff for 2024 facing Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations, in a match heading for a guaranteed sell-out early in January. Both France and Italy also visit the home of Welsh rugby during the campaign and attendances are expected to be high throughout the tournament.

Warren Gatland’s side have the opportunity to show just how far they have progressed since the 2023 Championship with a Rugby World Cup quarter-final appearance striking a stark and most welcome change from results earlier in the year.

The nation will, again, be expecting great things.

But first, the Ospreys take on Cardiff in Bridgend and the Scarlets visit the Dragons at Rodney Parade on New Year’s Day, with this latter fixture also showcasing the new Women’s development sides Brython Thunder and Gwalia Lightning as a double-header. There is no better way to start the new year than to go to live rugby – enjoy!

I can assure supporters throughout Wales that I am taking a significant personal interest in ensuring that the WRU works as closely as possible with our regional sides because this one area, at this moment in time, is a keystone to future success for Welsh rugby.

Happy New Year to all in the rugby family and may 2024 be both successful and the new beginning for you that it promises to be for us at the WRU.

Richard Collier-Keywood
WRU Chair

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


6 Nations

Wales team to face Ireland in Dublin named

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Senior men’s head coach Warren Gatland has named the Wales side to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the third round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations on Saturday 24 February (KO 2.15pm live on ITV and S4C).

There is one change to the starting XV that played England at Twickenham on 10 February, with Sam Costelow returning for Wales at fly half.

Among the replacements back-row Mackenzie Martin is in line to win his first senior cap this weekend and would become the 1,200th Wales men’s international.

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Tight-head prop Dillon Lewis would be making his first appearance of this Championship if called on from the bench.

Gatland said: “We are excited to go out to Dublin and test ourselves against one of the leading sides in world rugby. It’s a challenge we are relishing.

“We’ve made steps in the last couple of games and now it’s about building on that, learning from those experiences and taking that into this weekend.

“It’s about continuing to work hard, looking for accuracy in our performance across 80 minutes and also keeping our discipline.”

Wales senior men’s team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 24 February KO 2.15pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C.
15. Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 56 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 119 caps)
12. Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 34 caps)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 16 caps)
10. Sam Costelow (Scarlets – 9 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 55 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 27 caps)
2. Elliot Dee (Dragons – 48 caps)
3. Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby – 4 caps)
4. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 14 caps) Captain / Capten
5. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 53 caps)
6. Alex Mann (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
7. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 15 caps)
8. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 45 caps)

Replacements

16. Ryan Elias (Scarlets – 40 caps)
17. Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Harlequins – 54 caps)
19. Will Rowlands (Racing 92 – 30 caps)
20. Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
21. Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 19 caps)
22. Ioan Lloyd (Scarlets – 4 caps)
23. Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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6 Nations

Jager and Ahern Join Ireland Squad Ahead Of Wales

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The Ireland squad re-assembled in Dublin on Sunday evening ahead of this weekend’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations Round 3 clash against Wales at Aviva Stadium (Kick-off 2.15pm).

Prop Oli Jager has joined the squad and Thomas Ahern has also linked up with Andy Farrell‘s side at the IRFU High Performance Centre this week.

Iain Henderson picked up a foot injury during Ulster’s URC game away to Ospreys on Sunday and there will be a further update later in the week.

The Ireland Match Day Squad to face Wales at Aviva Stadium will be named on Thursday at 2pm.

Ireland Squad – Wales Week: 

Backs (15):

Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht)
Harry Byrne (UCD/Leinster)
Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Ciaran Frawley (UCD/Leinster)
Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster)
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
James Lowe (Leinster)
Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/Ulster)
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
Calvin Nash (Young Munster/Munster)
Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster)
Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster)

Forwards (21):

Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster)*
Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster)
Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Caelan Doris (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster)
Oli Jager (Munster)*
Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jeremy Loughman (Garryowen/Munster)
Joe McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster)
Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)(captain)
Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster)
James Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
Dan Sheehan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Tom Stewart (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Nick Timoney (Banbridge/Ulster)
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster)

*Denotes uncapped player

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

O’Connell Gives Update On Keenan As Ireland Return To Training

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Hugo Keenan is Ireland’s main injury concern ahead of Saturday week’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations clash with Wales. The ever-influential full-back took a blow to his left knee during the win over Italy.

Keenan sustained the injury when falling awkwardly in a 52nd-minute tackle from Italian replacement Giosuè Zilocchi. He was replaced shortly afterwards by Harry Byrne, with Jack Crowley switching to the full-back position.

The 27-year-old Dubliner has become central to Andy Farrell’s plans in a short space of time, with his 15s international debut coming just over three years ago. He has accumulated more match minutes than any other player so far during Farrell’s coaching reign.

He has started 38 of Ireland’s last 42 Test matches, and Jimmy O’Brien and Michael Lowry are the only other players who have worn the number 15 jersey during that time.

Asked about Keenan’s likely availability for the third round of the Six Nations, Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Hugo didn’t train today, but he hasn’t been ruled out for the Welsh game yet.

“He’s progressing with his rehabilitation, he was there at training today and took part in the organisational bits, but I have no full update. He’s still available for selection for Wales, but I’m not sure what will happen in the next few days.

“He plays a big role, he’s obviously been injury-free for a long time. He’s an excellent player and in full-back, covering the back-field defensively, he has a lot of work to do in attack as well, recreating our attack by moving side to side.

“There’s a lot of IP (intellectual property) there that we might miss out on if he wasn’t playing. He also plays a big leadership role for us, he’s a very smart guy.

“He’s a problem-solver within the group and highly regarded within the group. Whether he’s there or not, he’ll continue to play that role.”

Keenan has had a strong start to the tournament, with his individual highlights including his try-saving tackles on Damian Penaud, including one which drove the French dangerman back a few feet, and an electric break against Italy from Craig Casey’s kick over the top.

He has an 85.7% tackle success rate, including two dominant hits and a turnover tackle. In attack, he has had gain-line success with two-thirds of his carries in the Championship, and has the team’s best tackle evasion rate of 47.1%.

If the Leinster star is ruled out when Ireland resume their campaign next week, the versatile Ciaran Frawley, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Calvin Nash, or indeed Crowley, could be options to fill the full-back berth.

Larmour, who returned to international action last Sunday for the first time since 2021, made nine starts at full-back between 2018 and 2020. Farrell handed him the number 15 shirt for his first game in charge of Ireland four years ago.

Last August against Italy, Frawley made his debut as a half-time replacement for O’Brien at full-back. He has started six times in the position for Leinster this season, with Stockdale, Nash and Crowley also having provincial experience in the back-field.

As O’Brien and Mack Hansen are also injury-enforced absentees, O’Connell admits that it could provide an opportunity to build more depth in that area if Keenan is unable to recover in time.

“It’s good for us in some ways because it makes us play someone else there if he doesn’t make it,” commented the Limerick man, who is in his fourth Men’s Six Nations campaign as part of the Ireland coaching group.

“I’m not sure yet, I don’t pay as much attention to the backs, but I’m not sure yet where  Hugo is at. As I said, he was around training today, so we’d be hopeful.”

Meanwhile, Garry Ringrose is on track to play some part against Wales at the Aviva Stadium having returned to training. He missed the opening two rounds due to a shoulder injury.

“Yeah it looks like it, he trained today,” O’Connell said of Ringrose. “We didn’t do a massive session today but he trained today and was in good shape.

“No one else sat out training, no, so they’re all good to go, I believe.”

That includes captain Peter O’Mahony (calf), Tadhg Furlong (calf), and Bundee Aki (knee), who all sat out the 36-0 bonus point victory over Italy as they recovered from their respective knocks.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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