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Cardiff youngsters aim to emulate rugby heroes after penning first academy deals

Age Grade & Academy | 5th March 2020

Three Cardiff Blues under-16 squad members have put pen-to-paper on their first academy contracts with their home region, as they look to follow in the footsteps of their rugby idols.

Louie Hennessey-Booth, Harrison James and McKenzie Martin have all committed their future to Wales’ Capital Region, adding to an already strong core of academy-contracted players at the Arms Park.

The trio follow in the footsteps of players such as Ben Burnell, Mason Grady, Efan Daniel, Ethan Fackrell, Alex Mann, Ryan Wilkins and Theo Cabango, who penned similar deals last summer and went on to play for Cardiff Blues under-18 during the title-winning Regional Age Grade Championship campaign.

All three players have been selected for the Cardiff Blues under-16 combined squad earlier this week.

They were also members of Cardiff Schools’ triumphant Dewar Shield side in 2019, with Hennessey-Booth crossing for a try in the Principality Stadium final win over Swansea Schools.

Centre Hennessey-Booth is a product of Llanishen RFC and Llanishen High School, and is a hard-carrying player who has the ability to get over the gain-line and power his way to break the defensive line.

Hennessey-Booth cites All Black Sonny Bill Williams and former Cardiff Blues favourite, Jamie Roberts, amongst his sporting heroes.

The centre will be heading to Hartpury College in the summer to further his education, but will continue to link up with his home region.

Hennessey-Booth said: “It’s a brilliant moment for me and my family. 

“I’ll be going away to Hartpury, which is really exciting, but I’ll be getting involved with the academy when I’m back home, while also keeping in contact with the coaches regarding my development.

“I’m really happy, and it’s brilliant to be connected with my home region.

“I wouldn’t want to be playing for anyone else in Wales so hopefully I can kick on from here.”

James is in the playmaker mould and can feature in either the number 10 or 12 jersey. He’s struck up a long-standing partnership with Hennessey-Booth, having been midfield partners for Llanishen RFC, Llanishen High School and Cardiff Schools.

He looks up to current Cardiff Blues centre and fellow Cardiff Schools alumni, Ben Thomas, as one of his inspirations, alongside established internationals such as Jonathan Davies and Owen Farrell.

James has also showed his ability from the tee, and has a proven record for converting points from distance.

The utility playmaker said: “I’m Cardiff born and bred, and I’ve always loved coming down to the Arms Park to watch Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC playing.

“I’ll be continuing my studies at Llanishen, but I just want to put my head down, continue to train hard and hopefully be the best that I can be.”

Martin recently converted from a prop into the back row, and can slot into either the number six or eight jersey.

The powerful forward prides himself on having an aggressive edge to his game and looks up to Wales internationals Taulupe Faletau and Sam Warburton.

The Llandaff RFC product is seeking education options at both Cardiff and Vale College or Clifton College for next year.

Reacting to his deal, Martin said: “It’s a great feeling to sign this contract, and this is one of the best moments of my life.

“Hopefully this is only the start of my career, and it’s a proud moment for me and my family.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck in and hopefully progress to the highest level of rugby that I can.”

Academy manager Gruff Rees added: "We're really pleased to see these three boys committing to play for their home region. 

"They've really impressed coming through the system, and have a huge amount of potential.

"But part of the player identification process is also looking at their personalities and attitudes, and we've been encouraged by the way they conduct themselves and their attitude towards their rugby development.

"Each player will have their specific educational pathways next year, but we're delighted to be able to keep them within the system.

"They're Cardiff boys, and you can see their passion towards the club and the players they look up to. They were stand-outs in the Cardiff Schools side last year and by getting them into the system early we'll be able to give them the very best service at a young age. It's another really exciting set of contracts and shows that our philosophy is moving in the right direction.

"We're excited by the academy group we have at the Arms Park, as well as the coaches, and hopefully they will all see the opportunities that boys like Alun Lawrence, Ioan Davies and Max Llewellyn have had with the senior side this season."