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Interview with Justin Burnell

9th August 2006

The Cardiff Blues caught up with Justin Burnell, the new Head Coach at Cardiff RFC and the Cardiff Blues Academy Manager.

Tell us a bit about why you are visiting Australia?

“I’m travelling to Australia to further the partnership we created two years ago with an ACT Brumbies club called West’s in Canberra. The structure of the partnership is designed for academy players to benefit from on and off field activities and last year we were fortunate to send Rhys Gill, Ross Johnson and Alex Murphy over.

They came back to us, with Ross going on to play for the Blues senior side and Rhys Gill was the star of the under 21’s. We felt it was beneficial and now this year we have Scott Roberts, one of our up and coming stars out in Australia following a training regime with the Australian Institute of Sport. He’ll also be playing rugby with West’s and it’s a fantastic opportunity for him. The trip is fully supported and endorsed by Head Coach David Young and Chief Executive Bob Norster.

It sounds very interesting what benefits are you hoping to get from the visit?

I will be visiting Australia to see if there are any players out there that can tie in with us, but also to keep the relationship going with the club. In all fairness to West’s they have totally funded the package and support what we are trying to achieve, so it’s an exciting time. We can see the benefits of the Academy already and within the Academy structure we have now is moving forward at a rate of knots and I think tremendous example this year with 6 academy members moving to the senior squad.

But having said that we are very aware they are still young men and want to see how the other half live, and we are fortunate that Dai is so supportive. For instance Scott is on a full time contract and though some may want him to train here, we felt that Scott would benefit from going to Australia for four months. He is sure to benefit from training in the Australian Institute of Sport which as we all know is the home of Olympic athletes is Australia. He’s living with a South African Number Eight and a flanker from Saracens. As well as adapting to new playing systems he has to adapt to life generally, doing his own washing, ironing, cooking. He’ll adapt and mature as a player and a person out there and we’re supportive of our players both off and on the field. It’s a massive step for him and it’s also quite ironic that Dai as a 19 year old went to ACT so we here we are 19 years on and we have tied up together again.

Will any Australian’s be visiting Wales in exchange?

We are also returning the favour and we have an Australian called Tom Games flying over, he was born in Wales but plays for Gordon’s in Sydney. They realise that Cardiff as a club and Blues region as supportive of this cross continent relationship.

How are the young players developing in the Academy?

I think it was quite interesting we take so much for granted. If we look at Munster the Heineken Cup champions, we were fortunate to play them last game of the season. Dai Flanagan played outside half, Duane Goodfield was playing, Bradley Davies came on as did Rhys Gill and Tom Riley with Dafydd Hewitt travelling over also. I think that’s it great to see these youngsters getting game time with the senior side whereas a year ago it would have been totally unthinkable. Someone like Bradley whose 120kilos and one of the fastest forwards in training is a great example. The biggest criticism they used to say is that young players were not physically strong enough. That’s not true nowadays, the power and strength they have they can more than hold there own now at 18 years of age. The only thing they can say now is they haven’t got experience but they will get that through playing.

I think Ponty were a great example of this last year. They won the Konica Minolta Cup with 9 regionally paid academy and senior players on the field. Sometimes people don’t see the big picture and are quick to moan but once you sit down and talk with them they totally understand. I’d like to think that Cardiff in the premiership will be quite and exciting prospect this season and we’ll have 7 academy members going in there. It looks good and I think we have the right blend of experience and a wealth of new bread of talent. We have Howard Stone as forwards coach and welcome Mathew Sylva as the Backs Coach who is a full time Development Officer with the Blues. It is a professional environment and we have Academy Manger, Gafyn Cooper, Danny Wilson, Regional Skills Coach, Chris Tombs The Blues Academy Conditioning Coach also working with Glamorgan Wanderers all within the region.

I can’t say enough about region, I think people are finally taking notice of all the good things happening including the Premiership. I think that Pontypridd supporters realise that without the Academy players they wouldn’t have been as successful last year.”