Richard Hodges expects Cardiff Blues youngsters to reap the rewards of training and playing alongside some of the region's most experienced players, as they prepare for an Anglo-Welsh Cup clash against London Irish on Friday.
Academy players such as James Botham, Alun Lawrence, and Corey Howells impressed in a young Cardiff Blues side during last week’s defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Following an intense block of festive derbies and crucial European clashes, a selection of senior individuals were rested last week, with one eye on next week’s return to PRO14 action, as the Cheetahs visit the Welsh capital.
Hodges believes the experience of being in a professional environment is key in the players’ development, and believes the impact of youngsters such as Owen Lane and Jarrod Evans in recent weeks will inspire the next crop to make a mark on the coaching team.
“There was a big contrast in our fortunes from the first half and second half last week. We spoke today about making sure that we get our identity on the game,” said Hodges.
“We only defended for five minutes in the second half in Leicester and won the second half because we got the balance to our game right.
“It’s what we spoke about at half time at Welford Road, and we’ll find that we’re not going to out-collide some of these big English sides, so we’ll have to think on our feet and bring speed and tempo into the game.
“We’re making sure the youngsters keep getting the opportunities to progress through training and the working week, and that’s the environment we’re getting across.
“If we’re not going to get our wins on the scoreboard, like last week even though we were close, it’s about how we get the wins elsewhere. We need to make sure we integrate the future Cardiff Blues players into the pathway.
“I’ve been speaking to Dafydd Smith today and told him to remember where he is in the pathway and who he is training with and against. The boys get used to our process, structure, the working week and what a professional player’s week looks like.
“These boys are rubbing shoulders with Gethin Jenkins, Nick Williams, Rey Lee-Lo for example, and last year you had someone like Jarrod Evans playing in these games and he’s now first choice at the moment.
"Someone will put their hands up this time around and we’ve spoken about that to the group this week.”
London Irish head into Friday’s match on the back of three victories, including a 66-7 thrashing of a young Wasps side in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last week.
The Exiles currently sit bottom of the Aviva Premiership, and Hodges expects them to look to continue their momentum ahead of a vital block of games in the fight for survival.
Hodges said: “Here and now it’s about trying to get a result on Friday night against London Irish, try to finish the competition on a high.
"We know what’s coming. They’re building to get back into the Aviva Premiership and into the relegation battle. They also had the Russian sides back-to-back in Europe and were able to give some of the boys their rest then.
“They’re gaining momentum now going into their league campaign. They drove Wasps to death last week and we’ve looked quite closely at that. We have to be clever around that area.
"They’ve got big attacking threats in players such as Theo Brophy Clews and Joe Cokanasiga and we’re aware of that and have spoken about it.
“It’s a close-knit cohesive group here this week and we’re looking forward to a home game on a Friday night.”