Newport’s Wesley Cunliffe (left) has credited rugby and the people involved in the sport for quite literally turning his life around. 

The powerful wing, who has just signed for Cross Keys in the Principality Premiership, has gone from a life of crime and custodial sentences to helping the land of his father, Jamaica to qualify for the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens. 

Cunliffe, who grew up in the Duffryn and Pill areas of Newport, became caught up in a spiral of lawbreaking during his early teens but thanks to his own athletic ability and understanding police officers, Wesley found rugby and credits the sport and the support he’s received from a string of individuals in Gwent rugby clubs for his dramatic change in fortune. 

After being spotted playing rugby sevens for Newport at the Foster’s 7s in Cardiff and for Samurai Sevens in the summer of 2016, Wesley was invited to play for Jamaica Sevens in their bid to qualify for Gold Coast and San Francisco 2018.

Cunliffe now wants to use his experience to inspire the next generation of youngsters who may be in the predicament he found himself in as a young boy growing up.

“I’ve seen the devastation crime can cause and it’s not a nice place. Sport, and rugby in particular, turned my life around and my experience has made me so passionate about getting the message across to young people about its positive effect.”

One important person in this journey was SOHK Programmes Manager Neil Edwards, who encountered Wesley while coaching at Newbridge.  Drawing on his background in Youth Offending Teams, Nelly helped Wesley to develop personally and as an athlete.  Now, Wesley has visited SOHK courses to talk about his story.

"I’ve enjoyed helping Neil Edwards and the participants on the School of Hard Knocks programme – rugby can make such a difference in so many ways. If you’re trying to turn your life around and you’re part of a rugby team, it shows others including potential employers that you are reliable, you can work with others and that you work hard to achieve goals.”

SOHK CEO Ken Cowen said: “Wesley is another incredible story of someone who has turned their life around through rugby. He is an inspiration to our staff and participants.  We are delighted that Neil Edwards, who played a part in Wesley’s story, is now part of our full-time team, changing lives through rugby every day in Wales and across the UK.”

If you would like to help SOHK create more incredible stories like Wesley's, please consider becoming a member of SOHK.