Cardiff Blues have confirmed their 2018/19 academy squad with eight new players joining 13 existing names as the U23 team prepare for their first ever campaign.
With the business not completely out of financial danger yet, youth development is still absolutely crucial to the ongoing sustainability of Cardiff Blues, and the club have put a solid coaching structure in place to help these talented youngsters out of regional age grade sides and into the Pro14.
Gruff Rees has come on board as Academy Manager, while T. Rhys Thomas joins Richie Rees as a skills coach focusing on the young players as they transition into the first team and beyond up the pathway.
Seven of the remaining players from last season in Will Davies-King, Rhys Carre, Iestyn Harris, Dane Blacker, Ben Jones, Ben Thomas and Max Llewellyn played in this summer’s Junior World Champions for Wales U20, while Alun Lawrence should have gone but was ruled out through injury.
Elsewhere, Jim Botham featured in the U20 Six Nations, Corey Howells is a Wales U18 international and played in this season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup, while Callum Bradbury, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Cameron Lewis have already graduated from that setup.
Of the new faces, the news of Pontypridd and University of South Wales scrum-half Jamie Hill joining the academy for next season has already been broken on the Cardiff Rugby Life and is now confirmed.
Another player who hasn’t graduated from the Cardiff Blues U18 squad of last season is Alex Varney, as the Crymych and Scarlets winger, who represented Wales U18 Sevens last summer, switches East.
Of the other players in the new intake there is a heavy Coleg y Cymoedd presence, with Ben Warren, Ioan Rhys Davies, Callun James, Rhys Davies and George Thomas having donned the green jersey over the last few years.
The exception is Ioan Davies, the Glantaf product earning rave reviews for his Wales U18 performance and try against England U18 at Sardis Road back in March.
Speaking to the Cardiff Blues official website about next season’s academy squad, Richie Rees said, “It’s great to see boys that come from all over the region coming into this professional environment.
“We’re fortunate enough to have rugby that is thriving across the region, which contribute massively to our pathway. It will make the world of difference for these boys to come together now to train and play with each other week-in, week-out.
“We’ve seen how well the likes of Seb Davies, Jarrod Evans and Owen Lane have done for Cardiff Blues last season, while Tomos Williams also won his first cap for Wales over the summer.
“As a coaching team, we take pride in seeing young local boys playing a key role in the first team, and hopefully the current crop of academy players can see how these boys have taken their opportunity with both hands.
“There will be opportunities for these boys next season, whether that’s for the first team or in the new development A League competition, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they stand up in those differing situations which will be more pressurised. Our ultimate goal is for these players to become regular senior starters for the Cardiff Blues and I believe our pathway will give these boys that opportunity.
Cardiff Blues 2018/19 Academy Squad
Forwards: Rhys Carre (loosehead), Iestyn Harris (hooker), Will Davies-King (tighthead), Ben Warren (tighthead), Callum Bradbury (lock), Shane Lewis-Hughes (back-row), Jim Botham (back-row), Callun James (back-row), Ioan Rhys Davies (back-row), Alun Lawrence (back-row)
Backs: Dane Blacker (scrum-half), Jamie Hill (scrum-half), Rhys Davies (fly-half), Ben Jones (fly-half), Ben Thomas (fly-half), Cameron Lewis (centre), Max Llewellyn (centre), George Thomas (wing), Corey Howells (wing), Alex Varney (wing), Ioan Davies (full-back)