Research into Junior Rugby Participation in Wales

Research by University academics and rugby experts into junior rugby participation in Wales has concluded that Wales’ junior development plan engages players in healthy amounts of rugby activity that is balanced and appropriate at each age and stage of development and that deprivation did not have an effect on the amount of rugby played.

The research was carried out by Professor Gareth Stratton, Mr Charles Winn and Dr Melitta McNarry (Swansea University), Dr Paul Ford (University of Brighton) and Jason Lewis (Welsh Rugby Union).    

The team:

  • Were interested in measuring the investment of time that junior rugby players in Wales give to the sport. 
  • Wanted insight into how this time was apportioned: play in matches, training, or practice, unstructured play.
  • Sought insight into the effect of deprivation on time spent in rugby and other popular sport activities.

The researchers used a sporting life history questionnaire that was used in junior football. The questionnaire asked about time spent in matches, training and play from the age of 6 through to 15. The data was split into mini (age 6-10 years) and Junior (11-15 years) rugby age groups.

The players who completed the questionnaire were U15 Dewar shield squad members. Five hundred and ninety took part from across all 26 districts in Wales.

The researchers found:

  • During the mini-rugby stage players accumulated an average of 113, 89, and 43 hours per year in rugby play, practice and competition, respectively.
  • During the junior rugby stage players accumulated 179, 115 and 64 hours per year in rugby practice, play and competition, respectively.
  • Between 5 and 16 years of age these players invested an average of nearly 2000 hours into rugby. This was equivalent to nearly two years in school.

 The average group (Third Quintile) 

 Rugby research graphic medium







Professor Gareth Stratton, Professor in Paediatric Exercise Science, Swansea University speaking on behalf of the research team said:

“When all eyes are focused on the performance of our teams as they battle for the 6 Nations honours the findings from our research are vital for the development of junior rugby in Wales. 

“We found that the focus of time spent up to the age of 12 is on play and practice. Competition increases from U12 but is still less than the sum of play and practice. This is an effective strategy to maintain interest and develop players at a junior age.

“The amount of time spent in rugby activities was equivalent to 2 years in school. This is a significant investment and the WRU need to make sure that there are opportunities for players to receive a return on their time investment by having supportive playing structures maintaining players interest through to the adult game.

“Junior rugby union players spend much less time (2000 hours) in the sport than junior football players (around 4000 hours). This is supportive of the early diversification pathway where players do not focus all their time on rugby but try other sports.

“Wales’ junior development plan engages players in healthy amounts of rugby activity that is balanced and appropriate at each age and stage of development.

“Deprivation did not have an effect on rugby hours accumulated which confirms that rugby union meets the criteria for a national sport that reaches every community in Wales and is effective in providing match, practice and play opportunities for players. Although accumulated deprivation did have an effect on participation with fewer “other sports” played in more deprived groups.”

  • The research paperThe effect of deprivation on the developmental activities of adolescent rugby union players in Wales.’ Can be found at: J Sports Sci. 2016 Dec 26:1-7.
  • Sport and Exercise Sciences is situated at the Bay Campus and its constituent Applied Sport Technology Exercise and Medicine Research Centre engages in research that makes a difference to sport performance and exercise and health. Sport and Exercise Sciences is ranked 5th in the UK for Research impact and this is another example of how their work adds value to sport in Wales.