As a member of the Wales team that shocked the world and won Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009, newly-appointed WRU Head of Sevens Richie Pugh knows all about defying the odds.
So the 38-year-old was never going to balk at the challenge of reviving a Wales’ sevens programme that had been placed on hold during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pugh returned to Wales sevens duty at the start of the year, having originally left the WRU to take up a position as contact skills coach at the Ospreys, and has hit the ground running.
With Wales having not played in the World Series since Vancouver in March 2020 much needed to be done, but Pugh is confident that Wales can make a positive impression in the months ahead.
“From a staffing point of view, it has been a case of recruiting a whole new support staff, and because of the pandemic, players were in different environments,” he said.
“We are building our squad around the likes of Luke Treharne, Morgan Williams and Tom Williams who have been with GB on the recent World Series legs.
“You’ve also got boys that have played (Welsh) Premiership rugby and as well your young transitional regional boys who make the bulk of our squad.
“It has been a challenge to get that group together but we are training with 20 boys at the moment and it has been a decent start.”
Pugh will be assisted by former Wales Women’s Sevens coach, Nick Wakley, and Robin Sowden-Taylor.
Sowden-Taylor won eight caps for Wales in 15s, from 2005-09 and until recently was working as Cardiff Rugby’s strength and conditioning coach.
#Dubai7s ✅— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) December 4, 2021
Malaga Sevens 🔜
The pools are now locked in 🔒
First up, the men’s ⤵️
Pool A: 🇿🇦 🏴 🇫🇯 🏴
Pool B: 🇦🇺 ☘️ 🇯🇵 🇳🇿
Pool C: 🇦🇷 🇺🇸 🇪🇸 🇼🇸
Pool D: 🇫🇷 🇰🇪 🇨🇦 🏴 #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/5ambIKn5Xe
Busy year of sevens ahead
Wales line up alongside France, Kenya and Canada in Pool D in Malaga at the start of what promises to be a busy year with a Commonwealth Games to look forward to and potentially Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022, if the team secures one of the four regional qualification places.
First up though is the World Series and Pugh expects his team to grow as the season pans out.
“Two weeks of preparation isn’t a great deal of time from a physical point of view but I believe the longer we can keep this nucleus of players together, we can get better and better and push for top eight places and then podium finishes,” he said.
“We have to go in with the mindset that we are good enough to do that, and I believe we are.
“We are definitely capable of doing it but the reality is we are going to be undercooked for the first two tournaments.
“Saying that, it is the same for a lot of teams in that transition period out of the Olympics cycle and the back-end of the pandemic.
“We have a great opportunity to start from scratch and push forward with the boys we’ve got.”
Giving Joyce the stage she deserves
Pugh is also overseeing the development of the Wales Women’s Sevens team, which includes the shining star of Welsh rugby, Jasmine Joyce.
Once Joyce and her dual-code team-mates have played at the delayed Rugby World Cup 2021 in 15s, their focus will turn to improving the fortunes of the sevens team.
Joyce recently experienced the World Series as a Great Britain player in back-to-back tournaments in Dubai but England, Scotland and Wales will compete as separate entities for the remainder of the Series.
As Wales women are not currently involved in the World Series, Joyce and her team-mates will have to make do with lower-level international rugby in Rugby Europe’s competition structure. Pugh says that is something they want to put right.
“The long-term picture is to get Wales Women in the World Series,” said the former Wales, Ospreys, Scarlets and Exeter flanker.
“Apart from the Olympic Games, our girls are missing out on that top-flight environment.
“We can’t rely on those two-year cycles for GB, we have to give her (Jas) a platform and the girls who want to be future Jas Joyces an opportunity to thrust themselves on that stage wearing the three feathers.”