An army of high calibre individuals has been appointed by schools across Wales in order to make a huge impact into the growth of rugby in Wales.
The 'school-club hub officers' have a variety of backgrounds including former professional rugby players, current semi-professional players, coaches, teachers and development professionals, and have been employed by 43 schools and colleges as full time rugby officers with a key objective to increase the amount of rugby played at schools and clubs.
Some of the appointments in the Dragons region include Bridgend assistant coach Mike Hook who has been employed by Lewis School, Pengam; Cross Keys captain Adam Powell as Tredegar Comprehensive's new rugby officer; Pontypridd flanker Jake Thomas is at Newbridge Comprehensive and Dragons outside half Dorian Jones, son of Kingsley has joined his old teachers at Brynmawr.
Former Wales and Dragons hooker Steve Jones has joined the ranks at Gower College, former Ospreys flanker Ben Thomas is making waves at Brynteg Comprehensive, former Wales centre Neil Boobyer and Chris Jones share joint responsibility for the role at Treorchy Comprehensive, and in the Scarlets region, some of the more well-known names include former prop Aled Griffiths who is flying the flag at Ysgol Bro Myrddin, Carmarthen, Carmarthen Quins hooker Gethin Robinson who has been appointed at Queen Elizabeth High and former Llanelli and Llandovery outside half Tomas Marks who has taken up the role at Ysgol Bro Dinefwr.
The schools, working closely with the Welsh Rugby Union, have signed up to a set of criteria which will ensure the rugby officers offer opportunities to play the national sport - in its various forms - to both boys and girls of all abilities throughout the school and that there is an effective communication and interface between the school and neighbouring club. The Welsh Rugby Union has provided funding to the schools to enable them to make these appointments.
The initiative has been developed and rolled out following the root and branch review into Welsh rugby recently carried out by WRU Head of Rugby Josh Lewsey.
Lewsey said, "The 'school-club hubs' created by the appointment of the rugby officers will provide a huge boost to Welsh rugby. This model plays a key part in developing a co-ordinated system that underpins the long term needs of both the elite and community game.
"They will provide for the dissemination of best practice throughout the country and connect the coaching advice of the national team to those delivering at grass roots. They will help to raise standards on the field, within the WRU Under 18 Wednesday League and the Welsh Schools Regional Leagues but a key aim will also be on the transition and retention of players into the club game.
"There is clear evidence now emerging that a disciplined sports programme can also contribute to improved academic results, attendance statistics and pupils' confidence and self-esteem. As such, by focussing on the game's core values and designing the seasonal structure to support the academic timetable, it is hoped this initiative will contribute to the development of well-balanced and healthy young people who will be good role models within their schools and communities. Such changes do not happen overnight but hopefully this is the first step towards a sustainable and successful structure for the health of the national sport."