The WRU has joined forces with The British & Irish Lions to launch the first-ever grassroots programme in partnership with the Four Home Unions called ‘Pick of the Pride’.
As the excitement continues ahead of the official Lions squad announcement, the programme aims to inspire a future generation of rugby players and to help retain current players in the game.
Four ambassadors aged 18 to 21 will be selected from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales based on their involvement and contribution to grassroots rugby, vision for the future of the game, and understanding of the Lions core values; Respect, Integrity, Discipline and Friendship.
The ambassadors will travel and immerse themselves in the culture of New Zealand rugby, to understand the challenges facing youth rugby globally and establishing a network with their counterparts. They will then bring their learnings back in order to share these with their own clubs and with other clubs in their region.
The WRU has already taken steps to increase the number players progressing to youth and senior rugby. In fact, the origins of Welsh Rugby’s #HalfAGame initiative, which guarantees equal playing opportunities for boys and girls of all ages and abilities, began in New Zealand.
WRU Head of Rugby Participation and former Wales and British & Irish Lion Ryan Jones is fully supportive of the programme and the positive collaboration with the rugby unions who are facing similar challenges when it comes to retaining rugby players aged 18-21.
“The programme fits entirely with our commitment to increase participation; by identifying new and innovative ways of engaging young players at the heart of the community game and working collaboratively with other nations to address the collective challenges we face.
He added: “The Pride of the Pack is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young players to become the ambassadors for their nation and the grassroots game. With the strength of the Lions pride behind them, they will return from New Zealand with unique and insightful experiences that will inspire their peers and the wider rugby community.”
British & Irish Lion and former Wales winger Shane Williams said: “The British & Irish Lions Pick of the Pride programme will be an honour and challenge. For me, playing with the Lions was one of the hardest but best tests of my career. It made me play out of my comfort zone and step up to challenges – but it was having the support of a team of Lions that allowed me to go forward at full pace.”
British & Irish Lions Chief Operating Officer Charlie McEwen said: “Fans throughout the world have followed and enjoyed the Lions tours over the last 129 years and now for the first time the phenomenon of the Lions will be used to directly have an impact on grassroots rugby in the UK and Ireland.
“Working closely with the Home Unions we hope that the programme will help rugby communities understand best practise, build and develop the game of youth rugby and create a global network to share ideas at home.”
To enter the Pick of the Pride selection process for 18 to 21-year-olds, go to www.Lionsrugby.com/Learning. Find out more on social media across all @LionsOfficial social channels with the hastags #AllForOne and #PickOfThePride.