|Wales stars Jonathan Davies and Rhys Priestland pose at the Millennium Stadium with their latest ‘fan’ Shane Williams, who will be the first to add his picture to the No 14 jersey for the duration of the 2012 RBS 6 Nations, an offer which is now open to all supporters via www.wru.co.uk|
Shane Williams, Wales’ newest ‘fan’ after retiring from international rugby last weekend, will appear on the wing for his country against Ireland in the first match of the 2012 RBS 6 Nations after all – in spirit at least.
Williams will be literally right behind incumbent wing George North, assuming he takes his place in the No 14 jersey against the Irish on February 5th, after the former IRB World Player of the Year (2008) and Welsh record try scorer today became one of Wales first ‘supporters’ to take up a new WRU offer to appear in person on international jerseys for the duration of the tournament.
The Ospreys and former British and Irish Lions wing wizard, who played his final match in Wales’ colours last weekend when he scored his national record 58th try in the dying seconds of the 24-18 defeat to Australia, joined nine-year-old Ifan Davies as the first fans to effectively sponsor the senior international wing berth.
A new initiative from the Welsh Rugby Union is offering fans the opportunity, for a nominal fee of just £20 (£10 for the replacements), to have their own image appear on the backs of their favourite players during the season ahead.
Like Williams and youngster Davies, who has been given the privilege of joining his rugby hero after appearing as mascot in the arch-finisher’s final match last Saturday, fans are asked to choose the number worn by their favourite player and send in an image of themselves via the WRU’s website.
That image will then be used to make-up the number as it appears on the backs of the chosen jerseys, with each playing jersey having a maximum capacity for 2,000 pictures per number (meaning jerseys 10 – 22 have double capacity).
The pictures of fan’s faces will be of reduced size, but the images will remain visible on close inspection and, most importantly, both the individual fans and the players they are backing will know they are there.
“Everyone knows my time has come as an international and part of me is now looking forward to being an enthusiastic spectator for the RBS 6 Nations just like everyone else,”said 34-year-old Williams, who called time on a distinguished 11-year career with a fitting try scoring climax at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday.
“I’m backing this group of players to go on to great things in the years ahead and someone like George, who at just 19 and with 16 caps and six tries already under his belt epitomises what this squad is now about.
“There is a great future ahead for Wales, but that future is not about me anymore. The likes of George, Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny, Aled Brew and the many players that will come after them on the Welsh wings will now take up the mantle.
“It is nice to think that, for the RBS 6 Nations at least, there will still be a small part of me on the wing for Wales and I think this is a great way of being able to show support to the boys.
“The match day jersey is a very special and personal thing to a player, we know when we wear it we are just passing through and have a duty to the players who have worn it before us and those who will play in it after us, as well as to the fans who are watching, and this concept has a great symmetry with that idea.”
This latest WRU initiative is an historic move which will see Wales become the first national rugby team to have their jersey numbers made up of thousands of supporter photographs – following in the footsteps of world famous football clubs Seville and Granada in Spain and Porto in Portugal.
Welsh fans roared their heroes to the Rugby World Cup semi-final in New Zealand in the autumn and fly-half Rhys Priestland believes that support can inspire Warren Gatland’s men to take on Europe’s finest in the RBS 6 Nations.
Priestland, the Wales incumbent at No 10, said: “We knew the fans had our backs during the World Cup – now they really are part of the team by appearing on our jerseys during the RBS 6 Nations.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for the Welsh public to get even closer to the squad and be a part of our RBS 6 Nations campaign.
“The World Cup just proved that we have the best fans in the world and now, whenever we pull on the jersey – either at the Millennium Stadium or elsewhere – we know they will be right behind us.
“It’s such an exciting time in Welsh rugby it’s great to have any opportunity to be part of it.
“We’re pleased to be leading the way by being the first rugby team to offer this opportunity and giving our fans something extra to show our gratitude for their constant support.”
Fans who feature on the back of the playing shirts will receive a replica of the number for their shirt and a certificate. At the point of sale fans will also have an opportunity to choose alternative numbers if their first choice has already been snapped up.
Priestland was joined by fellow internationals Matthew Rees and Jonathan Davies at the Millennium Stadium to launch the new WRU initiative today, Wednesday 7th December.
Rees added: “I think this is a great idea and I know this is going to go down well amongst our fans.
“I genuinely like the thought that we will have thousands of images of fans on the back of our jerseys for the duration of the RBS 6 Nations and I am going to get a spot on the No 2 jersey for my four-year-old daughter Brooke.“
Lucky mascot Ifan Davies and Williams are the first fans to be guaranteed places on their chosen numbers and supporters can join them by visiting www.wru.co.uk from today, just in time for Christmas.
Davies added: “It’s brilliant – I can’t believe my face is going to be on the back of one of the player’s shirts!
“I will definitely be watching every Wales match now and showing even more support.”
To get your face on one of the Wales RBS 6 Nations jerseys, visit www.wru.co.uk today where you can also buy your RBS 6 Nations tickets and catch yourself at the game.
Playing2 is a new concept in the relationship between sport and fan that gives supporters a feeling of membership they can be proud of on the web, Smart phone apps, social networks, a team certificate and, of course, at each game, where their photograph is actually on their player’s number.