Coach Richard Hodges has revealed his delight at the continued growth of the career pathway for young aspiring players at Cardiff Blues - and reflected on an encouraging and positive first season in the British & Irish Cup.
The Cardiff Blues Premiership Select (CBPS) finished the B&I Cup last week with a narrow 19-10 defeat at Nottingham.
Despite exiting the competition at the pool stages – after two late defeats ultimately cost the team qualification for the quarter-finals – Head Coach Hodges believes the cup provided a fantastic opportunity to blood a number of young players.
It comes on the back of eight Cardiff Blues last week winning Wales Under-20 call-ups - Corey Domachowski, Kieron Assiratti, Dillon Lewis, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Morgan Sieniawski, Jarrod Evans, Harri Millard and Elis-Wyn Benham.
With the likes of Liam Belcher, Seb Davies, Teri Gee, Jordan Viggers and Owen Lane currently out injured and unavailable for selection this years crop could serve the region well for many years.
And the strength of the career pathway was underlined most dramatically in the European Rugby Challenge Cup win over Rugby Calvisano last Friday – with all 12 of the tries scored by Academy graduates!
“It’s always fantastic to see home-grown players come through the ranks and for all the try scorers against Calvisano to have come through our Academy system was a huge endorsement for what we are trying to achieve here,” he said.
“It’s important we look to keep building a successful and functioning career pathway for young players and the British & Irish Cup this season has helped us achieve that this season too.
“Obviously we look back at the cup campaign tinged with some disappointment as we’ve not qualified. But we’ve seen some young talent really step up and that is a positive to take.
“A number of young players stood up, the likes of James Sheekey, Harri Millard, Elis-Wyn Benham and many others really impressed in the competition as a whole.
"Alongside this were the Premiership players from Cardiff and Pontypridd who really added to the group and I cant thank the two clubs enough for their buy in and also Ponty for allowing Gareth Wyatt to be our backs coach.
“Against Nottingham the scrum went really well too with a front row featuring Brad Thyer, Corey Domachowski and Kieron Assiratti. That shows we have some real talent coming through in that area.”
Reflecting on the Nottingham game, Hodges praised the manner in which a young team continue to look and play against the English side.
“The fixture was played on a difficult surface and credit to the team for the way they battled back from 12-0 down after half an hour with tries from Elis-Wyn Benham and Nick Griffiths,” he added.
“We were extremely competitive in every game we played in the British & Irish Cup and lost two to the last kick of the game.
“It’s a tough balancing act as you look at developing young players and winning games of rugby, but we felt we got that mix right and were very close to qualifying.
“Ultimately not winning our home games did the damage to our campaign. Credit must go to the team for staying in the competition until Round 5 by producing some performances away from home.
“You have to target your home games and late points lost against Nottingham and London Welsh, home and away, cost us knockout rugby, but the young players will learn and be better from that experience.”