Caron reflects on Wheelchair Celtic Cup and looks to the future

We may have lost our grip on the Wheelchair Celtic Cup last weekend, but head coach Alan Caron insists that the sport of Wheelchair Rugby League is thriving in Wales.

Ireland won the trophy after beating both Scotland and Wales in the gruelling six-hour three-match event that was held in the University of Galway on the west coast of the Irish Republic.

Wales were missing six of the ten players who travelled to the USA earlier in the year, plus another 2022 World Cup player who was unable to travel.

But this gave him a chance to see some of Wales’ developing players step up, including North Wales Crusaders’ Martin Turner and Jess Booth who made their international debuts, with Richard Carver of Argonauts returning to the side after three years away.

In their first game, Wales lost 64-52 to a strong Scotland side, thanks to two late tries from the Scots. It was a nip and tuck game that was 52-all with five minutes to go.

All the players selected against Scotland came from the WRL Invitational Development League and were captained by North Wales Crusaders’ Mason Baker.

But it was the southern-based players who were the stars of this game, especially vice-captain Scott Trigg-Turner who scored four tries and kicked six goals, passing 300 points for Wales in the process.

His Torfaen Tigers’ team-mate Alex Powell contributed two tries, whilst Cardiff Blue Dragons’ Lee Sargent scored a hat-trick. Phillip Davies of Hereford Harriers scored the remaining try.

Ireland had beaten Scotland 68-34 earlier in the day and they posted an almost identical score against Wales in game three, winning 68-32 to dominantly win the Celtic Cup for the second time and end Wales’ seven-year reign.

Martin Turner started this match and battled his way to two tries and one goal, with Wigan Warriors’ Mark Williams, who couldn’t make the USA trip and was rested against Scotland earlier in the day, also scoring twice. Trigg-Turner, who captained Wales in this match, went over for a try and kicked three goals with Davies also scoring again.

Caron has praised the players for their commitment throughout the day in two intense games.

“Development is outstanding over all three Celtic nations,” he said. “Since the last World Cup, we’ve all improved. Ourselves and Scotland have already started domestic leagues and Ireland won’t be far behind.

“Congratulations to Ireland on winning the Celtic Cup. They have recruited well from experienced players in other wheelchair sports like Wheelchair Hurling and Basketball, and the fact that they were able to field an all-domestic five for the final few minutes of the game just shows how far they’ve come since the last World Cup. It’s the first time that the competition has been held in Ireland and this victory will certainly help them in their progress.”

Wales are one of just four sides to have qualified for the 2026 World Cup (alongside England, France and Australia) which will be staged in the Southern Hemisphere, and he says that everything that Wales are doing now is to build towards this.

“On a Wales side of things, I’m proud of the whole squad and I understand why some of our players couldn’t make this trip after going to South Carolina in February,” he said.

“Our debutants were outstanding. I’m not going to take anything away from them, they left it on the pitch and we had less experienced players stepping up to international action and they did so well.

“We have a long-term plan with a long-term goal to have the best players in Wales going to the World Cup and for the future. That continues next year as we’ll be hosting the Celtic Cup.

“I’ve advised all our squad to keep training and keep learning from both their club and in the national team. Everyone who played on the weekend worked hard and learned from each game.”

Wales will be hosting the Celtic Cup in 2025 (details to be confirmed) and competing in the World Cup in 2026 (the only WRL side to automatically qualify for that year’s competitions), plus the WRL Invitational League is thriving.

Caron said: “We next have games on Sunday 23 June at Wrexham University when North Wales Crusaders, Crusaders Celts and Torfaen Tigers face each other over three games. Please come along and support if you’re able.

“We’re seeing a growth on last year’s record-breaking number of participants in Wales. The sport is growing in Wales and whilst we didn’t win the Celtic Cup this time, there’s always next year.”