THE Welsh Rugby Union has shortened the age range for youth rugby from three years to do, bringing the upper age limit down to under-18.

The governing body has had the decision to implement the change for at least the next four years to 2026.

Historically the age range for the youth game in Wales has spanned from 16 to 19-years-old, meaning players aged 19 and under were eligible to play alongside and against players who may be due to turn 17 in their current school year.

Partly due to the Welsh Government's pandemic regulations, which allowed an early return to play for children (U18s) this season and fewer restrictions, youth rugby has already played a year under the shortened age range.

"Of course, we will continue to monitor and review the effects of these changes, but I speak with absolute conviction when I say we believe this is a watershed moment for Welsh rugby," said WRU community director Geraint John.

"This move is part of a much wider strategy objective to link up all the strands of our pathway.

"To increase the percentage of male players that transition from U16s into Youth Rugby and, in turn, increase the percentage of youth players who are retained in adult senior rugby.

"The collective aim we all strive for, is a vibrant and flourishing production line of committed and competitive talent coming through to the senior adult male game.

"We have done our research and discussed widely with players, clubs, coaches, administrators and all interested parties throughout the game.

"We surveyed over 9,000 individuals associated with Welsh rugby, both on and off the field including making direct contact with those involved in the current U16 junior, youth and senior adult male game in Wales and our overwhelming conclusion has been that the numbers don't lie.

"Our participation figures and the comparisons each year, with each age group, show starkly that the choking point for our pathway is the year after U16 level, the first year of youth rugby.

"This is where players are lost to the game in their many hundreds and the research confirms what many of us have long suspected, that it is the sudden widening of age-banding which is part of the problem.

"There are of course fluctuations in player retention in other age groups, but between U7s and U16s, where single age banding is in place, player numbers in each age group remain strong.

"There are still holes in the bucket elsewhere and our work is by no means done, but it is in this first year of youth rugby where we have the opportunity to put our hands on the tap and significantly increase the flow of players coming through."