Grassroots rugby in Wales 'dying on its feet'

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Media captionAmateur rugby clubs are struggling to attract players

Grassroots rugby in Wales is "dying on its feet", according to the secretary of one lower league club.

While the national side took the Six Nations Grand Slam, amateur sides have been struggling to attract players.

The WRU said positive initiatives have led to a huge increase in participation in schools and colleges.

But about 30% of teams in the amateur second and third divisions said they had postponed games this season because of a lack of players.

And 80% said they had had at least one fixture postponed because the opposition could not raise a side.

Club officials blame social and demographic changes for the problem.

"It's a very difficult one. We lose an element of the senior players as they come through from youth (under-19s)," said Burry Port secretary Jonathan Davies.

"A lot of them go to university, girlfriends get involved and stop players playing - they'll become wise to that at a later stage - work commitments is another issue.

Image copyright Jaggery/ Geograph
Image caption Central Park is home to Blaina RFC

"The game is much more physical now, injuries are worse and with having to take time off work they can't afford it basically."

Until a few years ago, the Carmarthenshire team had two sides, with full training sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Now it is struggling to put one team on the pitch on a Saturday afternoon - but it does have a full junior section from under-sevens to youth, a women's team and a mixed ability side.

"I'm sure I'm not alone in being a doom-monger in this, but it's kind of dying on its feet," said Chris Adams, secretary at Blaina RFC.

The club only has two teams now - a senior men's and senior women's side.

New flexible regulations have been introduced by the WRU to ensure games go ahead - for example, clubs no longer having to raise 15 players to fulfil a second team game.

There is also an initiative encouraging clubs to run under-17 sides, to help ease the transition into youth rugby.

Image caption The WRU hopes getting more schoolchildren into rugby will feed up into the senior game

Hub officers are creating opportunities in schools.

Idris Davies School in the Rhymney Valley has gone from having no teams two years ago to having years seven to 11 playing each week with a sixth form side planned for September.

The knock-on effect has seen Rhymney RFC, which struggled to raise enough for junior sides, double the size of its squad with 25 new players.

According to the WRU, since the first hub officers were appointed in 2014, the amount of rugby played by pupils in schools and colleges has increased 1,000% for boys and 11,000% for girls.

There are now 40,000 boys playing compared with 4,323 five years ago, and the number of girls has risen from less than 170 to 19,000.

The hope is these players will keep playing once they leave school, enabling their local rugby clubs to thrive once again.

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