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Fish gives in-depth reflection of under-18 campaign

Pathway | 6th July 2021

Following the conclusion of the Cardiff Blues under-18 campaign, we caught up with academy coach Dan Fish for an in-depth reflection on the block of fixtures.

With three wins from four, there were certainly plenty of positives to take for the young group representing their home club.

It’s been over a week since the campaign drew to a close. What’s your initial reflection on the block of games?

DF: “It’s been tough for everyone during the lockdown period so it was just great to get those boys back out on the field again.

“It’s been 16 months for a lot of those boys without playing any games so we were lucky.

“We played the first game, getting a good result against Scarlets at home, followed by a week off, but the next three games came thick and fast and within eight days.

“So it was a shock to the system for the boys but one I think they’ll learn from.

One of the real stand-out aspect of the side’s play was their attacking prowess, highlighted by the sheer volume of tries scored across all three games. Knowing yourself as an attack coach and an attack-minded player, this must’ve pleased you?

DF: “These young boys just want to go out and play, so we tried to encourage them to do what they’re good at.

“The Cardiff Rugby way is to go out and play and the boys love that. Me and Craggs encourage it and some of the tries showed it flourished at times.

“When it works, and the boys stick to the overall game-plan, it works well but on the other hand we conceded quite a few tries as well, which makes it harder to win games.

“But as an attack coach, I love running rugby so tries from both sides is good but to win it’s a two-way game.

“The boys can’t just attack and it’s been a good learning for the boys rather than just attack from everywhere while also adapting to different weather conditions.

“We’ve sat down with the boys, reflected on the four games and there’s been good learnings for the players as well as us as coaches.

“They’ve given their feedback, and both me and Craggs have also been out for a while without match coaching so it was also good for us to get back on the field and put a team together to go out there.”

Two convincing victories in the opening games were followed by a gritty victory over Scarlets and a defeat to Dragons in the final game. Do you learn more from these type of games in the long run?

DF: “The biggest learnings came from the narrow win away at the Scarlets and the defeat to Dragons at the end. In the first Scarlets game everything clicked for us, and you will get days where everything you do works.

“We then went up to the Dragons, and if you look back they probably gifted us four tries and without those it would’ve been a close game.

“So that second Scarlets game, when we went down to Llanelli, was a good learning curve. With the two wins they had, the boys could’ve been on their high horse.

“They could’ve travelled down there being complacent, but we went to Parc y Scarlets and played in different weather conditions, with a couple of changes made to the team and boys getting their first taste of under-18s rugby.

“In the first 50 minutes we struggled but we finished really good in the final 20 minutes. The boys showed they could dig in to get the result we wanted.

“Every time we play against the Dragons, it’s a physical battle. The boys knew that, we knew that, but for the first 15 minutes we weren’t at the races. 

“At that point, we are 21-0 down and the boys did remarkably well to pull the game back and take the lead. But the key to that defeat as the first 15 minutes where we let in three tries because we weren’t at the races, both physically and mentally. It shows you can’t afford to do that, no matter what age of rugby you’re playing at.

“Whether you’re playing age grade, Premiership, regional or international, when that whistle goes you’ve got to be prepared to go.

“Those learnings will hopefully carry the boys forward in their careers. Those boys will go down different paths now, and hopefully some will go on to play Premiership and regional rugby, while some will be playing under-18 rugby again next year.

“If they can use this experience in their next steps then hopefully it will make them all the better for it.”

The likes of Louie Hennessey-Booth, Ryan Wilkins, Gwilym Evans, Harrison James and Cameron Winnett are all contracted to the academy set-up. Were you pleased with their input and leadership as they came into the under-18 side for this block?

DF: “All the academy boys were brilliant, but that’s true for all the boys that came in. They all showed a real desire and a real want to play. 

“These academy boys have had more training than the boys who were unfortunate to just be sat around their house during Covid. But it was good to see them coming in and they knew they needed to reach the level that the academy boys were at to get into the under-18 team.

“Gwilym led by example as captain. He speaks really well, is a great rugby player and he’s someone that’s got a big future ahead of him, and he’s a good leader.

“He wants to be the best and the other boys are able to see what he’s capable and what he wants. The other boys wanted to follow him and that’s great.

“Louie Hennessey-Booth and Harrison James are in their first year of under-18 rugby and they both played really well. Harrison played a little bit out of position at 10 but it was a learning for him.

“They’re both young boys and the more learnings they’ll get then the better they will become. Sometime it’s good to learn in the action. You can train all you like but you ultimately get judged on what happens on the field.

“For them two, they’ve come away with a lot of promise but also with a couple of things to work on, which is great for everyone involved.

“Cam Winnett I thought was outstanding. He’s been lucky enough to train with the senior squad and didn’t look out of place in that environment. 

“He’s then stepped back down to the under-18s and been unbelievable in attack and defence. He’s barely put a foot wrong.

“That’s a great marker for him and hopefully, at only 18, he will only get better. But it’s our job to keep these boys’ feet on the ground, keep digging away in the background and hopefully in a couple of years they will flourish on the big stage because they all want to play for Cardiff.


As a coach, have you been able to draw on your experiences of coming through the ranks and graduating into the first team at the Arms Park?

DF: “I didn’t play under-18 rugby, I was a bit of a late developer and I’m one of the ones that shows if you keep working hard then you can get that breakthrough. 

“For boys who might not have played this year, the message is to keep plugging away because that door could always open for you.

“Into this block, I also took the experience of coaching at Cardiff and Vale Experience, where I had some great experiences.

“Their wants is to make it as a professional rugby player, and that is what my role turns to. 

“I was lucky enough to play professional rugby for Cardiff. But I get my enjoyment now from helping these boys as much as I can and my pleasure is comes from when they step out onto Cardiff Arms Park as fully professional rugby players.

“I want to help these boys as much as I can, but I’m still young as a coach. I’m learning from them as well and that forms good partnerships. My pride in my job will be seeing them running out in Cardiff shirts in a few years time. 

“Between me and Craggs, we work well together with these boys to just give them simple drills that will help them play for Cardiff or when they go on to play elsewhere.

“We focus a lot on giving them a broad outlook on rugby and help them individually on the skills they believe they need to make it in their position, rather than saying what is the right or wrong ways. We don’t want to show them a dark lane.

“We’re trying to prepare them to be a success wherever they go.”