'Do better!' More than 100 ex-Wales players publish open letter demanding change from WRU

By Katie Sands

A group of more than 100 ex-Welsh rugby internationals has called on the Welsh Rugby Union to "do better" amid anger over its strategy for the women's game.

An open letter publicly shared on Monday written by Tonia Antoniazzi, MP for Gower and former Wales international, has been signed by 123 former Welsh squad members who say they "cannot stand by and watch the game deteriorate further".

The letter's signatories, former players from 1988-2020, include Philippa Tuttiett, Alecs Donovan, Caryl James, Gemma Hallett and Nadine Griffiths.

The call for action from WRU chief executive Steve Phillips is dated April 14, 2021, but has now been publicly shared in a bid for further improvements to be made.

Former Wales second-row and vocal critic Gemma Hallett said: "Five months ago we wrote to the WRU urging them to provide performance pathways.

"On May 10 former players met with the CEO. We were told recommendations from the review would be shared and implemented. As elite rugby deteriorates further, we demand action".

The challenges facing Wales Women have been well documented, with the amateur team's players having to balance full-time work or education alongside the sport, unlike Six Nations rivals England - the only professional team in the tournament - and semi-pro France.

Heavy defeats have followed, while there has been a carousel of coaching personnel in recent years, with their latest head coach Warren Abrahams leaving less than nine months after being appointed, just a year out from the postponed 2023 World Cup in New Zealand.

Contracts have previously been mooted, in the summer of 2020, but there has been no significant developing on contracting players since then.

A WRU-commissioned independent team are reviewing the strategy around Wales Women. That review was initially due to be concluded by late June. Nothing has yet been published and it is not known if the full report will be made available publicly after its completion.

The WRU previously said the mid-term review would "leave no stone unturned to provide recommendations as to how the performance women's programme can be improved in a general sense and in order to positively impact Wales Women's ability to compete at next year's Rugby World Cup".

Read more: England star tells WRU and other Six Nations countries to 'pull their socks up'

Read more: Welsh rugby chief promises investment in 'exhausted' women's team

But a party of concerned ex-players have piled on further pressure by going public with their letter, dated five months ago.

"It is our duty to leave the game in a better place and improve the legacy for the next players," the letter reads.

"This is why we cannot stand by and turn a blind eye to the deepening inequality of provision in the women's game in Wales.

"The inaction of the WRU in providing a performance pathway for women and girls continues to negatively affect the national team's performance.

"The WRU strategy affirms: 'to commit to support each player through all levels of the game and beyond, and as a consequence our players choose to stay in Wales, our teams 'win' at every level'.

"We want you to know that today this statement could not be further from the experience of representing Wales as a female rugby player. You have failed to provide a route for our female players through any elite level, our top players are encouraged to play outside of Wales, and our only women's team on an international stage is not winning."

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Wales' players have been encouraged to play elite club rugby in England's top league, Premier 15s.

"The results of the last two Six Nations games [Wales lost 53-0 against France, 45-0 to Ireland and 27-20 against Scotland in 2021] are a product of the current environment, which brings us to the crisis point we have feared was inevitable; your systemic dismantling of the age grade and development pathways, which you inherited from the WWRU [Welsh Women's Rugby Union], contribute significantly to the failures of the women's game in Wales today."

The WRU have been called on to publish a "strategy for long-term development of female rugby players or defined pathways for them... setting clear and measurable goals, timelines for the development and implementation of these programmes and specific high-performance targets to ensure the success of our national game".

"We expect you to be the role models our nation of female players and their supporters need, and to make a positive difference by committing to a clear pathway from grassroots to the national teams by building an environment of expectation of success and winning at all levels.

"We cannot stand by and watch the women's game deteriorate any further, we want to work with you. This letter is an offer of support as a 'working party', bringing a variety of experience to work together and achieve the best outcomes for the future of women and girls' rugby in Wales."

You can also view a petition on the matter here.

A WRU spokesperson previously told WalesOnline: "Newly-appointed WRU performance director Nigel Walker has made it clear that women’s performance rugby will be amongst his priorities when he officially takes up the role at the end of September and the search has already begun for a new women’s head coach."

From a community perspective, WRU community director Geraint John said: "We are hugely buoyed by the enthusiasm across the female game.

"We recognise there is still a long way to go following 18 months without competitive community rugby and will implement a number of initiatives this season to help restart the female game.

"For example, during the autumn, there will be female skills centres around Wales for U12s to U18s along with senior Talent ID opportunities and we are increasing staffing to boost the female community game."

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