Welsh girls' rugby participation 'up by thousands'

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Media caption,

Girls playing the sport like Efa Celyn and Heledd Roberts share their views

The number of girls playing rugby in Wales has increased from 170 to about 10,000 in just three years, officials have said.

Welsh Rugby Union launched a campaign to boost the grassroots game and attract young female players in 2015.

The WRU said changing perceptions and the growing profile of the women's game had fuelled the huge increase.

Wales Women play their Six Nations match against Italy at the Principality Stadium this Sunday.

According to the WRU, about 10,000 girls play rugby across 95 schools, colleges or university hubs, which have full-time rugby officers.

Three years ago there were 43 schools hubs and 170 players, it said.

The new hubs were launched at schools, colleges and universities and employ full-time rugby officers backed by the WRU.

'Boys would laugh'

It also launched 28 girls-only "clusters" across Wales to provide an opportunity for girls to play rugby outside of school.

Players said they were earning more respect in the game.

Image caption,
Efa Celyn and Heledd Roberts hope more girls' rugby teams will be established in north Wales

Heledd Roberts, 16, from Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy, helped to establish a girls team in her area four years ago.

"At the beginning we were seen as more of a joke, especially in our school, the boys would laugh at us," said Heledd, who plays as a hooker.

"But, over the years, we've got taken more seriously and we've won competitions."

Efa Celyn, who plays second row, took up the sport in September and enjoys the teamwork and social aspect.

When the 16-year-old first told her father she wanted to play rugby "he was a bit against it" but she said growing media coverage of the national women's squad has helped boost respect for the sport.

Parent Eileen Murphy, from Brecon, said she was "thrilled" her daughter, who plays rugby for Gwernyfed RFC's Red Kites, could "be involved in a sport alongside the boys".

Mrs Murphy said she was not worried by its physicality, adding: "It develops team spirit, they look out for each other."

Hub officers work with WRU rugby co-ordinators and volunteers to encourage and support girls to join the clusters.

Katy Evans, from the WRU, said they have sought to raise awareness of girls-only rugby through their campaigns.

Image caption,
Katy Evans said she hopes to see girls from the clusters go on to play for the national team

"Unless they were brought up with their dad taking them to a rugby club, they wouldn't necessarily get involved," she said.

"We've done a lot of work around the perceptions, the culture, what girls can access from rugby.

"By building these clusters it's evolved a new world of rugby. It's something girls want to be a part of and they're getting the true value of rugby through this setting but in a more comfortable environment."

WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips said: "On a community level, women and girls' rugby in Wales has enjoyed a fantastic upturn in players, profile and interest in recent years.

"We have plans to continue to grow and strengthen these structures and opportunities in order to cater for the increased demand from girls to play rugby."