The Blues Academy programme is vital to the long-term achievement of the region. It creates opportunities for talented individuals to adopt a daily lifestyle that enables each player to work towards a professional rugby career.
The benefits of the academy programme have already been seen over the last few seasons, with a number of players now regulars in both our first team and the international squad.
This year saw a positive change in the structure of the strength and conditioning regime at both a junior and senior level with the adoption of a new facility right in the heart of Cardiff’s city centre, Dragon Crossfit.
Retired Cardiff Blues and Wales international, Robin Sowden-Taylor, co-owner of what is now the junior academy’s base training facility, put pen to paper and signed a deal with the Cardiff Blues Academy, allowing them the use of the crossfit facility for their strength and conditioning programme.
“Getting the academy boys training down here on a regular basis is a big positive for the gym in terms of boosting the profile of the place” explained Robin. “Also in terms of the boys, they enjoy coming here and from my point of view I really enjoy being involved with rugby again after retiring from the professional game.”
With the Blues Academy’s new facility, based at Coleg Morgannwg, lacking the space for functional workouts, Dragon Crossfit offers options to the coaching team.
Strength and conditioning coach, Rhodri Williams, works alongside the crossfit coaches to create a programme that mixes traditional rugby strength and conditioning workouts with a more versatile workout championed by crossfit that is designed to increase overall fitness.
“There’s a great big space giving us good options especially with the weather in Wales at the moment.
“It is a great facility for the boys to be part of. We have the option to do traditional strength work but we can also have a much more functional capacity in this facility. The coaches down here are really knowledgeable and have embraced us here.
“The boys are really enjoying training somewhere different from normal. If and when the boys get sent up to the seniors there won’t be such a huge gap to overcome in terms of conditioning.”
Workouts consist of High Intensity Intervals that replicate movements seen on the pitch, such as running, speed off the ground, bodyweight exercises. Equipment is used such as the prowlers, sands bags, barbells, as well as plenty of one-on-one wrestling on the floor. The outcome of this new training programme has seen the boys lose up to 5% body fat and a rise in muscle mass over just a few short months.
Richard Hodges, who joined the Cardiff Blues region in December 2004, manages the boys’ overall performance. “The muscle mass gains the boys have had and decrease in body fat percentage has been fantastic,” stated the retired Cardiff RFC head coach. “The rugby tailored crossfit programme is working well at the minute. They cover all bases. There’s a strength and conditioning element to the morning sessions followed by a ‘give it your all, work as hard as you can for an hour until you can work no longer’ workout later in the afternoon.”
“Three mornings a week the junior academy boys are in here before they go to school, then we use the facility for our senior academy boys on Tuesday afternoons. We’re keeping the pot bigger at this level than any other region at the moment as we believe these boys are deserving of the opportunities.”
Dragon Crossfit has not only become an elite strength and conditioning facility for the up and coming rugby professionals, but it also has a string of current professional players and retired players using the facility, including former Blues and Wales greats Tom Shanklin and Rhys Williams.
Robin Sowden-Taylor, or Cyril, as he is known to his friends, has found a life after rugby through the conditioning of younger players. It is something he hopes to develop through Dragon Crossfit over the next few years and being involved with the Cardiff Blues Academy is just the beginning for him and his business partners, Andy Edwards and Simon Harris.
“Being involved with youngsters, especially ones who are on a rugby track, certainly is a big part of what we want to do in the future,” explains the Cardiff Blues alumni. “We’re sponsoring the Cardiff Schools U15 rugby team this year, we’ve had them in here enjoying themselves over the summer and we’ve seen some big improvements.”
“We’re leading the way outside of professional sports. It was great over the summer having teams come in for preseason training, including the Scarlets. It’s good that, as well as the amateur teams, the professional teams also look to use these facilities.
“It was quite tough adjusting to life after rugby, setting myself up a new career and a new way of life. Now I’m on a different path, it’s really exciting to be back involved with rugby.”
The Cardiff Blues Academy players are at a pivotal time in their careers in which their future in rugby will be decided over the coming months. Four of the most promising young players have been promoted to the senior side for the LV campaign and fans can look forward to seeing them on the pitch over the next few games.