As rugby takes an increasing toll on players’ bodies, our sports correspondent Richard Morgan reports on how the WRPA are helping players plan for life after they hang up their boots…
They say rugby’s getting tougher. And a glance at the bare statistics shows just how true that is.
According to the Welsh professional rugby players’ association (WRPA), of the 9 players retiring this season, 8 of them will be forced to due so because of injury.
In the last seven weeks alone, 4 players have lost their battles with injury, including 24-year-old Ospreys flanker Ben Lewis, who’d represented Wales at every age group level and had been expected to make the leap into the senior squad.
It’s a worrying trend, and shows just how fragile careers are at the top end of sport.
Helping players plan for the future is just one of the roles performed by Zoe Eaton, the WRPA’s new player development manager (PDM). The PDM system has proved a fantastic success at the RPA, the WRPAs sister organisation in England.
“Five years ago there was one player development manager in place who was looking after all twelve premiership clubs, so a huge task.” She told me.
“And within five years they’ve grown to having six. That shows the success of the programme, it shows the buy-in from the clubs and the players themselves.”
So, what does she do?
Well, essentially, Zoe’s role is to visit the four regions, meeting with individual players whilst also being on hand for those who want an informal chat.
Her role ranges from advising them with current issues like anti-doping regulations and player insurance, to putting them in contact with expert financial advice, to helping them find work placements and training courses to fit in around their rugby careers.
Having worked as a PDM in England, she’s seen the whole gamut of issues that players can face, which in some cases include substance abuse and emotional problems.
So, is it worth doing? Well, judging by the uptake in England, the players certainly like it. And having sat in on a meeting between Zoe and Tom Willis, the Dragons captain, it seems the system could be set for success here, too.
“At the end of the day, they’re here to help us”, Tom told me, after a meeting in which he discussed placements with law firms.
“Some of the guys who’ve gone, particularly these days, straight out of school into professional rugby environments, well to a certain extent their education and skill development’s been put on the back burner. So it’s really important to take these opportunities when they come on board.”
Many players are already looking ahead to the future, like the three Dragons who learn plumbing at evening class each week.
And in a world where individuals are only ever one bad injury away from retirement, who can blame them for keeping one eye on the future as well as the demands of the present.