Cardiff Blues have strengthened their future options with the signing of 13 Academy players
Brad Thyer, Ethan Lewis, James Sheekey, Sam Parker, Dafi Sion Davies, Ollie Smyth, Leon Crump, Garyn Smith, Jack Phillips, Will Thomas, Callum Lewis, Jack Maynard, Tom Williams and Will Baird are all exciting young prospects with a majority having come through the Blues Age Grade system.
The Blues Academy has produced a number of quality players over the seasons including the four Cardiff Blues players selected for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.
Speaking of the signings Richard Hodges Cardiff Blues / WRU Performance Manager said,
“We are really happy with the way the Academy has gone this year.
“We were looking for a top down approach and looking at the stats from the last Heineken Cup fixture, from 1 to 15, were all home grown players that graduated from the Blues Academy.
“Below that this year we have had 36 Age Grade internationals at Wales 16, 18 and 20 level.
“That is 36 boys who we think can come through and could play regional rugby.
“We feel that the intake here reflects the hard work going on in the schools, colleges and clubs around the region and are really excited about this new group that has signed.”
The Age Grade pathway works by selecting a squad of 90 at under 16 level who have the opportunity to progress. The squad of 90 will then be reduced to a squad of 35 at under 18 level. It is from that squad that players are selected for the Academy set up. Most of these players are developed within the region.
Speaking of the selection process Hodges added,
“We have extended our net a little bit further and wider this year compared to other years. We have a boy coming in from Llandovery College and a boy from Filton College.
“Our scouting network has thrown up a few names it might not have done in previous years
“We also have our scouting network at colleges and schools outside of the region.
“College rugby is getting bigger and bigger, the fact that it is now on television allows us to keep an eye on players who we might not have been able to track before.
“You also have schools and colleges such as Filton, Hartpury and Millfield who have some quality players.
“We have signed Dafi Sion Davies from Millfield School this year, Will Baird has come from Filton College, Ollie Smyth has come in from Llandovery College.
“We have also picked up a raw diamond in Aaron Elliott from Bargoed, who hasn’t played much first team rugby there but we think he has all the right attributes to have a crack at being a good regional tight or loose head prop.
“Another signing is Jack Maynard from the Scarlets Academy who is a fly half. We also work with other clubs and Ollie Hitchings is going to Biarritz as part of an agreement we have started with them for him to study and play in France for a year.”
“We have spread the net far and wide but we do get the majority of our recruits from our Age Grade pathway and judging by how many players have been capped this year, it is working.
“Whilst we have looked further afield there is enough rugby going on at under 16, 18,19 level within an hour and half of the region for us to be able to fill the gaps we have got.
“For those boys who do not get picked straight from the Age Grade pathway, as some boys will not peak until their early 20s, the Principality Premiership comes in to play.
“Players that exited the sport at the ages of 18/19 and then returned later down the line are watched.
“Leigh Halfpenny is a great example, he was released by the Ospreys and then picked up by Cardiff RFC, given an opportunity at the Premiership and has come back through the Blues to the Lions.
“We have signed a couple of boys this year that have not had any Age Grade experience but feel that they have demonstrated the right attributes at the age of 19/ 21 to come through.
“Some of these Academy players will play for Pontypridd RFC and some will play for Cardiff RFC, it breaks down to 9 to Pontypridd and 14 to Cardiff and it all depends on where we think the player will develop best.”