The Head of Regional Rugby Wales, Stuart Gallacher says the impact of Wales' rising home-grown stars in the Six Nations contest will send out a significant message about the return on investment being made in developing Welsh talent.
Speaking ahead of Wales’ opening fixture against Ireland in Dublin on Sunday, Gallacher said it was encouraging to see that more than 90% of the Wales squad were players that have come through established development pathways in Wales.
Stuart Gallacher said: “When you look at the team that’s been selected for this huge opening game for Wales, and see how many of these up and coming players have come through the Welsh rugby development pathways – it gives you a sense of the good work that is being done.
“If international honours are the benchmark for this rugby nation – then it really is testimony to the effectiveness of the Welsh rugby development pathways operating between WRU, Regions and Premiership Clubs and to see in Wales the level at which we have brought through such exciting Welsh talent.
“A lot is said about the movement of players outside Wales at the moment as well as the impact of overseas players on our game in Wales within the regions. However the positive focus and reality is that we have a growing group of young players representing Wales who have been developed through regional academies, Premiership and Regional Rugby and it shows it’s working well.”
With more than 81% of the squad being made up of players from the four Welsh regions - Blues (6), Ospreys (6), Scarlets (5) and Dragons (1) – investment by regions alongside the WRU, continues to support and fast-track players for the national squad through regional development and exposure to top-flight European rugby competition for international players of the future.
Nineteen of the 22 representing Wales today are players that have come through defined development pathways in the four Welsh regions; Ospreys, Cardiff Blues, Scarlets and Dragons.
Gallacher said the energy and ambition of young Welsh home-grown players was a key driver now within the national squad and its success: “In this Six Nations 22 there are 14 players aged 25 and under and with an average age of 23 amongst the backline players facing Ireland – this is a reason to feel optimistic that we have a strong future ahead.
“We saw what many of these young Welsh players were capable of in the World Cup – now they are under the Six Nations spotlight and I think it sends out a clear message to the sporting world that Wales has a system of development that is clearly making good progress.
“It illustrates absolute effectiveness and success of the development pathways that have been put in place over a number of years and abilities and commitment of the four Rugby Regions to identify, nurture, develop and play Welsh talent.”
Gallacher added that the regional academies that were operating as a joint cooperation between Regions and the WRU were a “powerful illustration” of success of working together to bring forward Welsh talent – a fundamental pillar of the Participation Agreement.
The Chief Executive of RRW (Regional Rugby Wales) said: “For 27 years before the implementation of structured development pathways and establishment of Regional Rugby there were no Grand Slams for Wales.
“Since the establishment of the regions, Wales has won 2 Grand Slams, World Rugby Sevens, was the talk of last year's Rugby World Cup and with the regional sides winning silverware in Europe and the Anglo Welsh competitions as well as regular Celtic League top spots and play-offs.
“Of course, in the most difficult business environment for many years, with all our customers affected by reduced disposable income - the game in Wales , both professional and amateur has many challenges ahead,” said Gallacher.
“There is a lot of work to do going forward, but the foundations are strong and we have a number of new, pro-active initiatives underway within a renewed partnership as the four Welsh regions - and with the support and partnership of the WRU to ensure that we continue to find the best outcomes for Welsh Rugby.
“But as we eagerly anticipate the start of the Six Nations Championship that represents one of the pinnacles of the game, we should reflect on the aspects of Welsh rugby that are not just working, but the envy of many other rugby countries.”
Gallacher said that Regional Rugby Wales, on behalf of all four regions, wished the national squad and WRU all the very best in their Six Nations campaign. He said:
“Let's wish all our young stars and the heroes of our local rugby communities across the four Welsh rugby the very best as they show pride in their roots and prepare to give their all for Wales.”