Duane Goodfield has paid tribute to the entire Cardiff Blues region for their crucial contribution to the pathway and academy system.
Former Cardiff Blues hooker, Goodfield, is part of the academy backroom staff, alongside Gruff Rees, Richie Rees and T Rhys Thomas.
Following last week’s announcement of the 2018/19 academy squad, Goodfield is excited by the fact that all corners of the region are represented in the academy and senior squads, and believes it’s important that these areas are recognised for their invaluable work.
“All areas of the region are thriving at the moment, and it starts with the seven districts who compete in the Dewar Shield. We are represented from every district within the region - from north to south,” said Goodfield.
“It’s great to have players in the academy squad who have come from all over the region. For example, Callun James is from Brecon and came through the South Powys Dewar Shield programme, Ben Warren would’ve come through Rhondda Schools, Ioan Davies from Cardiff Schools, Ioan Rhys Davies from Cynon.
“There’s obviously good programmes in place around the region. Pontypridd Schools won the Dewar Shield last year, Cardiff Schools and Rhondda Schools also got to the latter stages, while the others were competitive in their respective competitions.
“It’s important that the players, when they come through the system, are recognised for which area they’ve come from and it shows how important the entire region is for our academy all the way up to our senior side.
“We’ve been able to go around the region and do some CPD work with Dewar Shield coaches, who really bought into it. There are really good people doing some brilliant work on the ground around the region.”
Goodfield was proud to see a number of home-grown talent play crucial roles in last season’s Challenge Cup success, and insists there will be further opportunities handed to youngsters who impress over the course of next season.
The 33-year-old said: “Last season was fantastic for us as an academy department, and we were so proud to be in Bilbao, where 13 of the matchday squad had come through the programme, including recent graduates like Seb Davies, Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans and Tomos Williams, who had massive impacts on that game.
“We loved to see Seb, Tomos, Dillon and Ellis also being selected to go on the summer tour with Wales, and they did particularly well with their performances there.
“It’s massive for the academy to produce players for our senior side and moving forward this is something we must continue to do, because it shows to the younger lads that, if they grasp the opportunity they’re given, then they can achieve what those boys are currently achieving.
“I’ve spoken to John Mulvihill, and he’s really keen to give some of the younger lads an opportunity during pre-season, and they will be given that chance quite early on. It will be up to them to take that opportunity. He’s massively behind development and exposing the young player we have to top-level rugby.
“The ambition for us is to produce as many players as we can for the Wales senior side and I think, over the last year in particular, we’ve really shown our capability to do that.
"I know Gruff Rees will add huge quality to the academy, with a wealth of experience at the top end of the game and a strong development background, and we look forward to working with him.”
Goodfield is confident that there are a number of exciting prospects in the region's ranks at the moment, but insists the hard work is yet to come for the youngsters.
Goodfield said: “We’re really excited for the new format to develop youngsters. We’ve announce a good amount on new intakes into the academy, with the majority of those boys going into the ‘tracked group’, which means early morning sessions where they work on conditioning and skills, before they go back to their respective universities or colleges.
"Ioan Davies, the full back from Ysgol Glantaf, will come to light over the next few years. He’s a good prospect, who has been involved with the Wales under-18 squad, but unfortunately has just missed out on going to South Africa this summer because of his age. He’s definitely one to look out for.
“I’m also looking forward to seeing Ben Warren develop as a tighthead prop. Ben is from the Rhondda, and has shown to be a good propsect, and he’s likely to go to South Africa with the under-18 squad.
“There’s a couple of lads, like Ioan Rhys Davies and Callun James, who have also come in and impressed as some of the younger boys in there.
“Last year, we had Max Llewellyn in their shoes, who has also bee studying at Cardiff Met, and will probably feature in senior rugby more this year, as well as with Cardiff RFC and the new development side. There’s a really decent crop coming through.
“Alex Varney really impressed me last year when Scarlets under-18 played against Cardiff Blues South at the Arms Park. He was fantastic. He has great footwork and was beating defenders for fun on the wing. He’s a really explosive wing, with natural talent to his game, which could be of real added value to us.
“Alex will be studying at Cardiff University next year, so this is an opportunity for him to continue his rugby development with Cardiff Blues alongside his studies. It will be nice to see how he goes over the next 12-18 months.
"These experiences of being in a full-time professional environment will be a real eye-opener to the amount of work they've got ahead of them. It definitely won't get easier for them, it will be tougher.
"You have to earn your right to be part of that senior changing room, and it's a tough selection process, because it's not taken lightly when a decision is made to give someone their first opportunity to step up to train. They will have deserved it.
"You still have key senior players, Test players, Lions players, who are up at the crack of dawn and still putting those hard yards in, and seeing the work ethic from the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Nick Williams, Sam Warburton, Gareth Anscombe and Ellis Jenkins, to name a few, will be a huge boost to the youngsters and hold them in good stead. They'll have a small window to see these top professionals at their work."