Writer Owen Sheers appointed WRU's first artist-in-residence

Novelist, playwright and poet Owen Sheers is being asked to "immerse himself" in Welsh rugby for a year.

Sheers, 37, from Abergavenny, is to the first artist-in-residence for the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU).

The ex-scrum-half will have behind the scenes access to examine the drama and cultural impact of the national game.

The Arts Council for Wales says Sheers is the first of three artists for the project, which is not being paid for by the WRU.

Wales captain Sam Warburton said it would be fascinating to see what he wrote about "the lives we all lead".

The award-winning writer and rugby fan admits he is "stepping into the unknown" but also says the challenge is "quite exciting" coming as it does after Wales semi-final achievement in the World Cup.

"The point is that you don't come to it with a prescribed idea," he said.

'Privileged opportunity'

Sheers will shadow the Wales squad to observe the work that goes on behind the scenes as they build up to the Six Nations early next year.

He will also be able to choose any other aspect of the game to record and describe.

Sheers said: "I have a privileged opportunity not just to examine events on the field, but to look at supporters, fitness coaches, families, the whole thing.

"I'm going in with an open mind. It's one of the reasons why I accepted the position because some writers in residence are asked to write something immediately which sometimes leads to poor work.

"I can't say what form it will take. It could be a book of fiction, it could be a book of short stories, a play or a poem."

Sheers has plenty of writing experience to draw from.

He has published two poetry collections, The Blue Book and Skirrid Hill, and his debut prose work The Dust Diaries, set in Zimbabwe, won the Welsh Book of the Year 2005.

His first novel, Resistance, has been translated into 10 languages, and Sheers co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation released last month starring Hollywood actor Michael Sheen.

He is currently working with wounded soldiers to create a play about their lives at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, called Bravo 22 Company.

Image caption Sheers will be looking at all aspects of rugby in Wales

But will he have access to the stars of the Welsh team like Sam Warburton, Mike Phillips and Rhys Priestland as they prepare for the home rugby tournament?

"I think I'll have access to players, but I'll find out about that over the next few months," said Sheers, who played for Pontypool, Abergavenny and Blaenau.

'Literary stars'

"It's important to stress that it's not just the elite level, it's clubs right the way down the line.

"I hope my work will foster the relationship between sport and art, especially in Wales where there's always been close ties between the intellectual and the physical."

WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said they were delighted to have secured the services of Sheers - one of Wales' literary stars.

But JJ Williams, the 'Welsh whippet' of the 1970s, says he finds it hard to imagine such a thing during the golden era of Welsh rugby.

"Most of our lot thought they were poets themselves! But can you imagine a dressing room with Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett and Ray Gravell, when they bring in this bloke and tell us he's going to follow us around and write poems about what we get up to?"

"He wouldn't have lasted long; not that he'd have been able to publish most of what went on in any case!"

The WRU, which says the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) is funding the initiative, said Sheers would have access to all levels of the game, including grass roots rugby.

ACW chair Prof Dai Smith said they were all excited about the appointment.

"The programme is part of a wider arts strategic policy that seeks to enable the arts to express and celebrate the ethos and character of Welsh society," he said.

Two more artists will succeed Sheers for the final two years of the initiative.

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