Richard Hodges is confident Wales Under-20s' Six Nations campaign points to a bright future for Cardiff Blues.
Wales’ Capital Region provided more players to Jason Strange’s squad than any other team with 12 youngsters named in the initial party and James Botham and Owen Lane linking up during the tournament from their Wales Sevens commitments.
A hugely impressive 10 players featured in last weekend’s bonus-point victory over Ireland, and this week 11 Cardiff Blues are in the squad as Wales look to secure a second-place finish by beating France.
Hodges has paid tribute to all of those who have influenced the young guns’ careers to date and hopes are large contingent will kick on to the Cardiff Blues first-team squad.
Hodges, who combines his role as Academy and Pathway Manager at the Blues with coaching Wales Under-20s, said: “It’s a big pat on the back for everyone that has helped them along the way, their families, clubs, schools and colleges. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit.
“Not all 14 will come through and establish themselves but a good contingent will and there looks to be a couple of real gems in there as well.
“When you look at our current first team squad, around 60% are home grown players – more than any other team in Europe. The salary cap in Wales means we have to give young players opportunities.
“From last year’s Under-20s crop the likes of Corey Domachowski, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies and Jarrod Evans are beginning to come through for the Blues.
“In this year’s group, Rhun Williams and Shane Lewis-Hughes have already got some 1st team experience, while guys like Dane (Blacker) and Ben (Jones) have both been performing well and have another year to come with the 20s, as have Jim Botham and Cory Tarrant.
“The next step for them is to break into the first-team training squad so they can impress Danny Wilson and hopefully earn an opportunity
“It shows the pathway is in a strong position, its producing and I’m happy with the outcome. We need to keep it going. For example, I feel this years U16s cohort is our strongest ever - its exciting”
With such a conveyor belt of talent at the region, Cardiff Blues have made a more concerted effort this season to ensure up and coming players have everything possible to enable them to progress through the ranks.
This has included the establishment of an Under 20 Cap group (UTC), who are given extra responsibilities around the training group as well as lectures, extra training sessions, mentoring and cleaning the building!.
Any player who has less than 20 first-team caps (Guinness PRO12 or European, or the equivalent at another club) qualifies for this group.
It not only ensures their feet remain on the ground but gives them a better chance of establishing a long-term career.
Hodges continued: “The members of the UTC get extra resources. We can’t have youngsters coming into the first team squad as the 45th man and being treated like that.
“We have to give them more support to ensure they take that next step. They get extra demands off the pitch, they’re given lectures, have first-team mentors, who review their games, and they do extra skills sessions.
“Gethin Jenkins did a lecture last week on what it takes to make it as a professional player, the sacrifice you have to make, the pitfalls of injury and just how diligent you need to be.
“Who better than Gethin, with everything he has achieved as a player both at a club level and internationally?”