RUGBY’S drive to become a fully inclusive sport is giving women and girls in Gwent the perfect opportunity to get involved at a grassroots level.

Some 32 female ‘hubs’ around Wales offer a family-friendly environment for girls aged six to 18, and in some cases rugby-based fitness activities for adults.

Robbie Young leads the Ebbw Vale hub – Newport, Pontypool and Cross Keys host others in the region – which is called the Jesters.

“When we set up the Jesters five years ago, we thought we’d have a handful of girls and 40 turned up,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped growing ever since.

“Fun is at the heart of everything we do. If it’s not fun, we don’t do it.”

And the impact the hubs are having on individuals and families is clear to see at the Jesters.

Parent and assistant team manager Non Byrne says the Jesters has brought her whole family closer together.

“The Jesters Hub plays a massive part in our community,” she said.

“The girls are learning new skills, having fun and developing new friendships – it’s priceless to see the smiles on their faces.

“It’s incredible to see how far my daughters have come on since being part of the Jesters family.

“They live for their Wednesday training sessions and Sunday festivals.

“They’ve made friends, my husband and I have also made new bonds and thanks to the Jesters, the whole family spends more time together.

“The Jesters has brought my family closer and I can never thank them enough.”

Megan and Emmi are in the under-13 team.

Megan said: “The Jesters means everything to me. I’ve made friends for life, it’s helped my fitness and I love the rugby too.”

Emmi added: “Megan encouraged me to give rugby a go so I joined the Jesters last season.

“I’ve made friends and being part of the Jesters has also given me so much more confidence and strength.

“I used to get picked on in school but if that happens now, I stand up for myself.”

Charlotte Wathan, WRU general manager, women and girls, said: “It is our ambition to be a sport that is truly inclusive.

“We want to provide opportunities for all females to gain positive rugby experiences, both on and off the field, both throughout the education pathway and within the community.

“We want to be reflective of society and create a rugby culture that truly supports and sustains female rugby and females in rugby generally.

“Thousands of girls are already participating regularly in a variety of rugby formats within school, college and university, and we know there is growing demand from girls to have access to rugby both as part of the curriculum and within the range of extra-curriculum opportunities offered.

“We’ve also recognised the need to further increase the meaningful opportunities for women and girls to be part of the community rugby family – be it as players, coaches, referees or volunteers.

“Increased community participation in rugby via the Female Hubs has clear, positive health benefits for women and girls.

“But even more encouraging is the social role the hubs are developing – they are helping to build life-long friendships for the whole family.”

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