An open letter to Welsh rugby

Subject: An open letter to Welsh rugby
From: Roger Lewis, WRU chief executive
Date: 4 Feb 2015

To Welsh rugby fans,

It's going to be a busy year for Welsh rugby and we've all got a World Cup to look forward to in September.

Apologies to our politicians regarding the forthcoming General Election, but there is no doubt that rugby will define 2015 for many of us in Wales.

Of course, the formation of a new UK Government in May will make history, but rugby will create a buzz of excitement which will last well into the autumn.

The Six Nations will deliver epic occasions, and the preparation of the players for the Rugby World Cup will capture our imaginations, as science and strategy combine to make our team better prepared than at any stage before.

The story will unfold before our eyes here in Wales, as well as across Europe and the Middle East, as Warren Gatland takes his chosen warriors to training camps in Switzerland, Qatar, Poland and to the shadow of Mount Snowdon itself. If there was a year for us to fully enjoy our rugby and indulge our passion for the sport, then 2015 is it.

This will be set against a backdrop within which the Welsh Rugby Union is evolving, with new faces hard at work and the existing team defining a newly-agreed strategy for the way forward.

I am working with our new chairman, Gareth Davies, to ensure this evolution reflects the needs of the whole of rugby in Wales. As a rugby man with a strong business background too, he is focused on the job at hand.

The Board, which boasts some new members, is relishing the task and we will make sure the intense work at the top level delivers real benefit to the community game, which is the bedrock of our sport.

The year will inevitably revolve around the World Cup, which will be competed for by some 20 nations across 48 games in September and October.

Until that tournament is won there will be reams of analysis and column after column of news reporting on teams, their players and the highs and lows.

For us in Wales, our journey can be traced back to 2007 when we began to unfold plans for a new player-development pathway based around a brand new WRU National Centre of Excellence, and the appointment of Warren Gatland as coach.

Yes, the road since then has been marked by unprecedented triumph and marred by setbacks and political skirmishes which have kept Welsh rugby at the forefront of the news agenda.

But through it all, we have been determined to create the best possible international team we can in order to win games and gather the income which sustains the whole of Welsh rugby for generations ahead.

Wales enter 2015 with a history of rugby success and a reputation as the team you take lightly at your peril.

Back in 2011, the people of Wales became part of the tournament folklore when some 62,000 fans packed the Millennium Stadium to watch the semi-final encounter with France from New Zealand on our big screens.

Since then, the strength of our players, our coaches and backroom staff has also been proven, with Lions success and a southern-hemisphere scalp last November.

The first epic event will be the arrival of England in Cardiff for the opening Six Nations encounter, matching teams who will meet again in the World Cup.

In June, the extended RWC squad is announced and meets at the National Centre of Excellence. In July they travel to Fiesch in Switzerland for the rigours of altitude training.

Then it’s off to “heat camp” in Doha, Qatar, where the squad will reside in rooms isolated to high altitude, so that oxygen-starved players will emerge to train at sea level in the punishing heat. We are grateful to the Qatar government for helping in this unique training plan, in some of the best training facilities in the world.

There’s no let-up, as on August 8, Wales play Ireland in a warm-up game at the Millennium Stadium before heading for North Wales to experience more tough training.

Then the squad leave for Poland and the bitter cold of the cryotherapy chambers before the second game against Ireland takes place in Dublin on August 29.

They say the entire population of Wales regard themselves as Welsh selectors and at the end of August their predictions will be proven or disproven when Warren announces his final squad.

As the drama of England 2015 unfolds, there will be eight World Cup matches at the Millennium Stadium, including two quarter-final encounters.

It is a hectic schedule of activity and, as it unfolds on the field, some young Welsh players will forge reputations which will undoubtedly define their status in rugby and beyond. If we achieve the success we have worked and hoped for, the rest of the competition could be riveting for any Welsh supporter.

Against this activity is the backdrop of the new bond between the WRU and the regions through the Rugby Services Agreement and its revolutionary new national dual contracts. Unity, harmony and stability must be our watchwords through the year.

There is the sense of a new era in Welsh rugby and, with that, comes new opportunities for us to prove that Wales deserves its place on the top table of the world game.

Here in Wales, whether you like sport or not, there is no doubt that the sheer drama ahead will capture your imagination and stir your passions. What a prospect: what a year!

Roger Lewis
WRU chief executive