The starting XV of last Saturday's team that recorded a 26-14 Heineken Cup win over Sale Sharks all came through the Blues Academy system
In the backs youngsters such as in-form centre Owen Williams, international winger Harry Robinson and young halfbacks Rhys Patchell and Lewis Jones only graduated from the Blues Academy recently. While Wales and Lions centre Jamie Roberts was one of the first crop to come through the Blues Academy.
Although Alex Cuthbert started playing rugby in Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, he was picked up at 18 years-of–age, by the Blues. The same is true of Full Back Leigh Halfpenny. He was released by the Ospreys at 18 and began his rugby education in the Blues Academy before going on to win honours with Wales and the Lions.
In the forwards, the front row of Sam Hobbs, Rhys Williams and Scott Andrews are all from the north of the region. Second row forwards James Down and Lou Reed have both been in the Welsh squad but graduated through the Blues age grade and academy system, before Reed took up a contract with the Scarlets.
In the back row Josh Navidi originally comes from the Ospreys region but was picked up by the Blues at 18, as was Andries Pretorius. The Number 8 is originally from South Africa but moved to the UK to study at Hartpury College before joining the Blues. Sam Warburton was born and raised in Cardiff and played age grade rugby for the region before graduating from the region and going on to captain his country.
The team shows that the system is working. Whether players have come through the system from an early age, or have been picked up from other regions academies the Blues are turning them into a team that can compete on the European stage and qualify to play for Wales.
WRU Performance Manager - Cardiff Blues, Richard Hodges, said,
"No one can say the Blues don’t develop and promote from within.
“A lot of work has gone in along the way by a lot of people and to have such a home grown squad is fantastic for those coming through the system now.
“They know that if they keep their head down and work hard they will have a shot at playing for their home region.
“This Sunday sees the U18s in their 5th consecutive final, they are unbeaten this season yet we all know the Scarlets will be a tough nut to crack.
“Yes the bigger picture is player development through the pathway but for 80 minutes on Sunday it will be about trying to win another final".
Cardiff Blues Director of Rugby, Phil Davies, said,
“The match against the Sale Sharks was a game we were able to field a full Welsh qualified team.”
“It shows that our Academy system is working well as it has done for a number of years.”
“It has produced some of the best players in Europe with the likes of Jamie Roberts, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny.”
“There is a new crop of youngsters who have come through which is fantastic and it’s exciting to see these young players develop.”
“From a personal view, I worked with a number of these players when I was coaching Wales Under 20 level.”
“Scott Andrews captained the side with Josh Navidi and Owen Williams also players who stood out.”
“We have an excellent development system at the Blues but it’s not only for the players.”
“Justin Burnell, Gethin Watts and now Richard Hodges have all done great work and the Academy has also developed some good coaches with Dale McIntosh, Lee Jarvis and Gareth Baber all having worked with our Academy.”
“When I was at Leeds we tried to have a 80/20 ratio where 80% of our players were homegrown, supplemented with 20% overseas players who brought something different to the squad.”
“If you can get around 80% of your squad from the local area it helps with team split and build local interest from around the community.”
“I feel it’s important that rugby teams are deep rooted in their community, it gives people a pride in their team and a sense of belonging as they can relate to the players.”
Talking ahead of the Age Grade Under 18 final this Sunday when the Blues take on the Scarlets at St Helens, Davies added,
“It’s a fantastic achievement for these youngsters to reach the final.”
“I speak on a regular basis to Richard Hodges who is our Academy manager.”
“The average age of our senior squad is 23 and then the Academy develops the next generation of players.”
“We have identified 75 players that we are developing so we will have a strong nucleus of players.”
“The likes of Luke Hamilton, Kristian Dacey and Macauley Cook are already coming through and have gained Heineken Cup experience at a very young age, which will only benefit us.”
“We are fortunate to have good people working in our community and Academy system who are developing these players and I wish the youngsters the best of luck for Sunday.”
Under 18’s Final
Cardiff Blues v Scarlets
Sunday 27 January 2.30pm kick off St Helens, Swansea
15 Aled Summerhill 14 Ollie Smyth 13 Garin Smith (vc) 12 Sam Edwards 11 Jack Huntley 10 Sam Withers 9 Shaun Clarke
1 Gus Mc Pherson 2 Liam Belcher 3 Dillon Lewis 4 Michael Snook 5 Ben Murphy 6 James Sheeky (c) 7 Matthew Marley 8 Ollie Hitchings
16 Rob Lewi 17 Ryan Spriggs 18 Josh James 19 Louie Burley 20 Bradley Llewellyn 21 Tom Williams 22 Tom McAloon 23 James Whittingham