Community rugby in Wales embarked on a new journey last weekend when 41 players from 32 grassroots clubs around Wales came together for the first training session of the WRU's newest international representative side - the Welsh Clubs XV.
The newly formed set-up will fulfil its first fixtures next month at a tournament in Belgium involving Spain and France Amateur, along with the hosts Belgium. This will be followed by the first home international for the side - against France on the morning of Wales v Australia this November.
The squad, which will be reduced to 26 at the end of the month in time for the August matches, is made up of players who are 25 or under and who play for clubs in the WRU Asda Leagues 1 - 5. All the nominated players for this national squad represented their regions last season in the inaugural WRU Regional Community Championship in which community sides representing the four Regions, plus Gogledd, the North Wales side, play against each other home and away.
Three players from the North Wales regional side have been nominated for the initial squad with five Ospreys, seven Blues, ten Scarlets and fourteen Dragons community players. The management team is made up of coaches Gerry Roberts and Kim Norkett, both from the WRU's community department and based within the Dragons and Scarlets regions respectively, while Cardiff Blues development officer Gary Knowles is team manager.
WRU Chief Executive Steve Lewis, who welcomed the players to the WRU's National Indoor Training Arena in the Vale of Glamorgan yesterday said, "This is a new venture which we hope will go from strength to strength.
"These players represent the top end of the community club game in Wales and they should be proud of that achievement. It would be great if some of these boys were to progress into Premiership rugby and beyond but that would be a bonus. This structure recognises the importance of the club game to Welsh rugby and these players have already achieved a great deal in getting this far.
"A first class management structure has been put into place with both coaches, Gerry Roberts and Kim Norkett possessing a great deal of experience within the high performance game.
"The management team has received the Welsh Rugby Union's full backing to provide these players with excellent training facilities and sessions before their departure for Belgium and the side should hopefully be one of the best if not the best prepared squad at the tournament."
Head coach Gerry Roberts, who is the Welsh Rugby Union's community rugby manager for the Dragons region last night said:
"It is fantastic for players at this level to have the chance to represent their country. I know from working with the Dragons Community Squad this season how much enthusiasm there is from players to represent their regions and now to be part of a national training squad is a dream come true for them.
"Although these are not professional rugby players, from a management point of view, we want to create an environment which is as professional as possible on and off the pitch, from the quality of training sessions to dietary advice and hopefully that will be reciprocated in the players' attitude on and off the field."
Welsh Clubs XV Training squad
Backs: Nathan Gittings (Fleur de Lys / Dragons), Arwel Roberts (Llangefni/ Gogledd), Andrew Banfield (Loughor / Ospreys), Gwyn Pengelly (Brecon / Blues), Gavin Close (Rhydyfelin / Blues), Tom Bonnell (Trimsaran / Scarlets), Matthew Jacobs (Llangennech / Scarlets), David James (Blackwood / Dragons), Matthew Lewis (Builth Wells / Blues), Darren Humphries (Bargoed / Dragons), Phil Price (Merthyr Tydfil/ Blues), Peter Smiriglia (Loughor / Scarlets), Justin Lewis (Ammanford / Scarlets), Aled Davies (Whitland / Scarlets), Jamie Howells (Bargoed / Dragons), Nathan Healy (Nantyffyllon / Ospreys), Phil Tucker (Penclawdd / Ospreys), Rhodri Jones (Talywain / Dragons), John Hooper (Seven Sisters / Ospreys)
Forwards: Anthony Lott, Ross Jones (both Bargoed / Dragons), Owen Cotton (Ynysybwl /Blues), Ashley Bannister (Llanelli Wanderers / Scarlets), Dafydd Davies (Narberth / Scarlets), Mark Jones (Pontyberem / Scarlets), Peter Harrison (Caerphilly / Dragons), Lee Williams (Croesyceiliog / Dragons), Gareth Gore (Carmarthen Quins / Scarlets), Jamie Noble (Blaina / Dragons), Chris James (Narberth / Scarlets), Andrew Packer (Newport Saracens / Dragons), Rob Downes (Beddau / Blues), Kevin Rees (Felinfoel / Scarlets), Steven Roberts (Bethesda / Gogledd), Kelvin Davies (Llandudno / Gogledd), Lee Edwards (Tredegar / Dragons), Owain Thomas (Whitland / Scarlets), Wayne Morris (Builth Wells / Blues), Stuart Barrow (Penclawdd / Ospreys), Geraint Turner (Abercynon / Blues), David Brake (Caerphilly /Dragons).