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Cardiff Met RFC continue to shine as developing ground for late bloomers

Age Grade & Academy | 18th November 2020

Alex Cuthbert, Gareth Edwards, T Rhys Thomas, Max Llewellyn, Gareth Cooper and Brynmor Williams. Those are just some of the names who have come through Cardiff Metropolitan University, before calling the iconic Cardiff Arms Park their home.

Cardiff Met - previously known as UWIC - has certainly been one of the leading sporting institutes within British universities, producing a number of world class athletes and providing them with top class programmes from their base in Cyncoed.

The Archers’ rugby side are certainly the pride of the campus, competing in the WRU Championship and regularly challenging in the latter stages of the BUCS Super League.

Danny Milton has been part of the Cardiff Met rugby family since 2008, initially joining as a coach before being appointed director of rugby in 2017.

A former Cardiff Blues age grade coach, who also works with the Wales under-18 side, the lecturer is proud of the players he’s seen graduating from Cardiff Met into top flight rugby, and believes it gives the university an edge when recruiting for new students.

"If you live in Cardiff, or the surrounding areas, not every one will want to stay. They’ll want to move on and get that student experience,” said Milton.

“But to be able to use the likes of Alex Cuthbert, Max Llewellyn, Owen Jenkins, Sam Cross and all those guys, who have been fantastic adverts for the university, is brilliant.

“We can use what they’ve gone on to do to perhaps help with our recruitment and we’re really grateful for the time, energy and effort they spent within our programme.”

The BUCS league has proven to be a ground for late bloomers to be identified by professional clubs. In recent seasons, the likes of Luke Northmore, Alex Dombrandt, Stephen Varney, Sebastian Negri, Sam Skinner and Harry Randall have all represented various teams in BUCS rugby before going on to shine in the Gallagher Premiership.

Milton is confident that university rugby is a perfect competitive platform for players to make a late charge for professional contracts, and the opportunity to link-up with various students allows the Cardiff Met team to taste the overall commitment that goes into being a full time professional rugby player.

The director of rugby added: “Rugby is a long term athlete development sport, so there will be players that will be identified between 16 to 18. We’ve had a lot of those, and you only have to look at someone like George North, who has gone on to win 100 caps as an example of someone who was spotted early.

“But there has to be a route for people who may take a little bit longer - whether it’s from their physical, tactical or technical development.

“Certainly for the BUCS Super Rugby institutions, and the team involved in that, the programme really does allow you to thrive and develop.

“We’re fortunate with our strength and conditioning and performance analysis programmes at the university. We can run four S&C programmes a week, have analysis sessions, skill sessions, that’s worked around their academic degree.”

The Cardiff Met director of rugby is also excited by the link with Cardiff Blues, and believe it has the potential to become something special for all parties, with the players benefitting from tailor- made programmes.

“It’s a relationship that’s improving all the time and since Gruff has come into the post there’s been more interaction and regular conversations, and we’re moving in the right direction,” explained Milton.

“We’re very fortunate at the moment to have some academy players within our programme. Covid has obviously brought its challenges but there’s regular conversations with the likes of Rhys Anstey, Alex Mann and Theo Cabango, who all head into their first years.

“On the flip side, it’s also nice to push players towards Cardiff Blues, and you have to look at someone like Ellis Bevan, who is on a month sabbatical away from our programme. He’s trying to balance his studies while training with the Blues full time for a month.

“As a Wales under-20 international and a Welsh exile, he’s a great example of how the programmes can work together.

“We can be in a place where we bring Welsh qualified players back over the border, and giving them an opportunity to thrive and develop in the programmes.

“With the BUCS Super Rugby currently taking off and being at a good standard for young student rugby to be at, they’ll be in the shop windows for our local teams, like Cardiff Blues, to have a look at.

“For Ellis to be going there, nothing would give me greater pleasure than seeing a Welsh guy signing up for Cardiff Blues, hopefully at the end of his time at university.

“With us not being able to provide meaningful competition, for a couple of our students to get that exposure and experience within a full time environment, while balancing their studies, is a great example of how the partnership is working together.

“We’ve seen many players representing Cardiff Met and Cardiff Blues over many years, and that’s something we want to establish.

“Something both myself and Gruff understand is that there doesn’t have to be an exclusive relationship, and there are players from Cardiff University or USW that Cardiff Blues will want to pick up. They should be developing and thriving relationships with all of their universities and educational establishments.

“It’s about casting that net as wide as you can and bringing that talent pool in.

“By the same token, for us, we don’t have just Welsh players at the university, we also have English players here, and we’re able to provide other players with appropriate links. We’ve also got Dragons academy players with us.

“For me it’s about doing what’s right for each individual who comes to the university and look after whoever comes into our programme to make sure they get a good degree as well as a great rugby experience.”

With Cardiff University joining Cardiff Met in the BUCS Super League, it has set-up a fiesty Cardiff derby between the two sides, with both legs being held at Cardiff Arms Park.

With fantastic atmospheres and highly competitive matches, Milton is excited that the fixtures at the Arms Park gives players of both sides an opportunity to taste a big- match experience, as the derbies have become an important fixture in the annual calendar.

Milton added: “We’re really grateful to the Blues, who have worked hard to support those Cardiff Uni v Cardiff Met derbies, and over the last few years they’ve been something that’s really become a feature for both programmes.

“I know Cardiff and Swansea will have their annual varsities but with Cardiff University and Cardiff Met now being BUCS institutions, there are big game opportunities provided to boys like Max Llewellyn, who has been getting good field time with Cardiff Blues recently, and that’s exciting for us to see.

“With Max having to compete with Luke Northmore, who is now at Harlequins, to get that shirt for one of those Cardiff derbies, where you play in front of 2,500 people, is a great advert and a great experience and preparation for moving into that professional environment.

“Those evenings, not just for the players but for the whole rugby programme, have been great.”