John Mulvihill believes the nine Cardiff Blues players called into the Wales squad ahead of next week’s clash against Barbarians is an indication the region is heading towards the right direction.
Uncapped duo Shane Lewis-Hughes and Willis Halaholo joins regional team-mates Josh Adams, Hallam Amos, Owen Lane, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Seb Davies and Dillon Lewis in Wayne Pivac’s first 35-man squad since taking over as head coach.
With Bradley Davies and Leigh Halfpenny also included in the squad, a total of eight players have been produced from the Cardiff Blues academy.
Promising academy youngster, Ioan Davies, will also link-up to train with the national squad following an impressive campaign with Wales under-20, and Cardiff Blues head coach, Mulvihill, reveals his players were ecstatic to hear the news of their call-ups.
“It’s fantastic for the young boys and it shows where we’re heading as a club as well,” said the Australian.
“When I first started 18 months ago, we didn’t have that many internationals in our squad.
“What was good was that it was the first time in a long while that those boys found out their selection in a team meeting. I had an e-mail about a minute before it came out, and we had a meeting at 11.
“So I read out the names and some of the boys were really surprised because they hadn’t been contacted beforehand. It was fantastic to share that with the group, and they’re really excited.
“Ioan Davies is another one who is added into that, and will go with them to train for the week as well.
“Wayne and his group want to get a young core of boys in to adapt to what international rugby could look like, and what a week would look like, to give them something to aspire to.”
For Lewis-Hughes, the call-up represents an impressive 12-months with his home region, as he’s firmly established himself in Mulvihill’s plans as part of a competitive back row unit.
Mulvihill says the call-up came as no surprise for the region’s coaching team as the academy product is rewarded for his tireless work and dedication, both on and off the field.
The head coach added: “It wasn’t a surprise for us, because we’d spoke to Wayne about Shane, and he’s come through the 20s.
“He’s come through some little niggle injuries last season and has started strongly this year.
“He is someone who is really driven about what he wants to do in rugby and playing for Wales is one of the things he’s been going after.
“Hopefully he’ll get some minutes but if not, it’ll be good exposure and he’ll be in the frame soon.
“He’s a target in the line-outs, he gives everything around the pitch, he’s a good ball-carrier and is very strong over the ball.
“He’s a big, athletic body and we use him on both sides of the ball, which is a little bit different from some out-and-out fetchers or boys who just carry and wait for the ball to come their way.
“He’s full of action and that’s what we like about him.
“He’s got the right frame to become an international player and he’s getting exposure in an international competition such as the PRO14.
“He also got minutes in the Heineken Champions Cup and will get more minutes in the Challenge this year.
“He’s putting himself in the frame to play against the best, and has had success in doing that, so we’re looking forward to seeing where he cant take his game next.”
Centre Halaholo qualified for Wales through residency, having made the switch to Wales’ Capital Region back in 2016.
He’s impressed during his time with the region, linking up with Rey Lee-Lo to form a formidable midfield partnership and producing some eye-catching individual performances.
Mulvihill believes the former Super Rugby winner can give the national side an unique x factor, and backs Halaholo to make his mark on the international stage.
“Willis has those moments on the ball that a lot of players wish they could have in terms of how quick he can move his footwork,” said Mulvihill.
“He’s a solidly built player and when you’ve got a player like that running at you with the capabilities of using late footwork, they can either bust a gap or make an opportunity for someone else.
“That’s something Wales probably haven’t had over the last couple of seasons, as they have some really strong and robust centres, but Willis can bring a little bit of x-factor in there.
“Under the new regime, and the way they want to play the game, they want players who get over the gain-line quickly.
“Defences in international rugby are so solid and strong, they need people who can use footwork to break them down.
“I’m sure the coaches will look to Willis to use his skill to get over the gain line and set up second-phase play on the front foot.
“For him and Johnny McNicholl, it could be the taste that they need to spur their game on to the next level.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how they go if they get an opportunity to play next week.”
Forward Davies missed out on a ticket to Japan for the Rugby World Cup, despite winning seven caps under Warren Gatland.
The Cardiff Blues head coach is delighted to see the academy product return to the national set-up and believes his athleticism can set him apart in the pack.
“Seb is someone who performed well for Wales when he played last year, in particularly against Tonga, but the former regime probably weren’t quite sure where they wanted to play him.
“He covers lock, six and eight and the new coaches coming in rate his athletic ability.
“I would think he has more of a chance of being a six and eight who can cover lock as well. Someone like Aaron Shingler has done that in the past and Seb is the new kid on the block who is athletic and big enough to do a job there.”
Six of Cardiff Blues' nine representatives in the Wales squad are likely to feature in Saturday's blockbuster Challenge Cup encounter against Leicester Tigers at the Arms Park. Make sure you head down for an unmissable evening of European rugby at the Welsh capital, as the sides go head-to-head for the first time in Europe since the infamous 2009 Heineken Cup semi final shoot-out. Tickets available NOW!