Cardiff Blues have moved to sign Keiron Assiratti, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Jim Botham to their first senior contracts at the Arms Park.
The three academy members are all former Wales U20 internationals and have played for Cardiff Blues A and in the Anglo-Welsh Cup before playing in the Guinness Pro14 in the first team.
Assiratti, 21, has the most Pro14 and European appearances to his name, having featured on the tighthead 25 times since making his debut in the tough environment of an away Challenge Cup quarter-final in April 2017.
21-year-old Lewis-Hughes actually made his debut before the prop, coming off the bench against Scarlets in October 2016, but has had to wait until this season to properly make an impact at blindside flanker.
He has appeared in every game since starting against Glasgow in the Heineken Champions Cup back in January, earning rave reviews for his physical carrying and tireless defensive work.
Botham, the most recent to turn 21, only has the one first team appearance to his name so far, having come off the bench against Connacht at the Arms Park in January after injury ruled him out of the first three months of the season.
He has mainly featured for Cardiff RFC, playing six times since Christmas, and may find that next season is his breakthrough on the openside while the World Cup takes place over the first few weeks of the campaign.
Talking to the official club website about his deal, Assiratti said, “I’m really happy to sign a new deal at Cardiff Blues. I’ve come all the way through the age-grades here, it’s my home region and I have a lot of friends here.
“There is great competition for places in the front-row, which is only a positive for my development and the coaches are not afraid to give young players opportunities. I’m really excited about the future at the Blues and I’m determined to do everything I can to secure a regular first team place.”
Lewis-Hughes added, “I’m really grateful to have been given the opportunity this season. I had my first start up in Glasgow and realised how big a game it was for me. I had to perform, and I felt I did my job. The coaches were happy, and things have been good since. Now I’m really keen now to keep getting better and better.”
Finally, Botham said, “It’s great to sign my first professional deal and I’m really happy it’s at Cardiff Blues, where I’ve spent the last three years in the academy. It was a massive honour to make my PRO14 debut earlier in the season having played a lot in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, in the A-League and Cardiff RFC – now I am hungry for more.
“You only have to look at the likes of Owen Lane, Jarrod Evans and Dillon Lewis to see how quickly young players can progress at Cardiff Blues, so this is definitely the right environment for me to improve as a player.
“I’m also really excited about the potential of this squad and what we can achieve in the future with so many good young players coming through to compliment the established guys and internationals.”