The WRU have launched a strident defence of their new policy on youth rugby after it was condemned as “insane” and “short-sighted”.
Traditionally, players can stay at youth level for three years from the age of 16 to 19.
But, next season, only players who are under 18 on August 31, 2021, will be able participate in youth rugby.
That’s part of the return-to-play strategy for the community game in Wales following the lengthy shut-down caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fears have been expressed that this will leave youth teams short on numbers and that youngsters who turn 18 before September could be lost to the game as they won’t be ready to step up to senior rugby.
Gist Vile was contacted by club officials deeply concerned about the change.
One described it as “absolutely insane”, “mental” and “detrimental” to both youth and senior rugby.
Another described it as a “short-sighted” decision that would lead to “a generation of boys lost to the game”.
Now WRU Head of Participation Geraint John has responded to the criticism, explaining the thinking behind the move.
He said it was all tied in with the Welsh Government viewing those over 18 as adults in terms of their Covid-policy towards sporting activity.
“They have guidelines for U18s sport and guidelines for senior sport,” he said.
“Anybody who reaches the age of 18 falls into the adult category.
“The simplest thing was for us to fall into line with Welsh Government policy on this.
“You just don’t know what is round the corner with Covid.
“We are conscious that if we went into any form of restrictions this winter, the likelihood is those would be placed on adults not U18s.
“So the last thing we wanted was youngsters being forced not to play again.
“If you have players who are over 18 (on Aug 31) in youth teams, those sides then fall under adult guidelines and adult restrictions.
“We wouldn’t want those teams to have to stop playing because of that.
“We don’t want a stop-start situation.
“These changes will allow youth rugby to continue even if restrictions are placed on adult sport. That’s the key thing.”
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John stresses, however, that this won’t leave those youngsters who turn 18 before September with nowhere to play.
“What we have said to clubs is there is nothing stopping them playing U19s or U20s rugby next season,” he said.
“We will 100 per cent support that. We just want people to play.
“Obviously, if Welsh Government turn round and say there is a restriction in adult activity, those teams would then have to stop.
“But we will work hard to make sure we don’t lose those players who have turned 18.
“We will also work hard to make sure those 16-year-olds who haven’t played for 14 months will be engaged in rugby and are comfortable in a youth environment.
“It would be hard for them, all of a sudden, to go into a youth bracket playing against 19-year-olds.”
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John also pointed out that the changes are just in place for next season due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The key thing is we need to make sure people are back playing,” he said.
“We are looking to be as flexible and creative as we can.
“We will encourage clubs to play as many games as they can.
“The intention behind the change certainly isn’t to kill the game. The intention is the opposite, to try and make sure people play.
“We have got meetings with all our youth sections this week to explain things in more detail to our clubs and clarify the situation.”