Cardiff & Vale College Rugby Academy put themselves on the map

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When it comes to reviewing the year in Welsh sport the focus may naturally be on some of the disappointments; Wales men’s football at the World Cup, Wales women’s football just missing out on the World Cup, Wales men’s rugby generally, Wrexham AFC failing to get promoted, Cardiff City, Swansea City and Newport County having mediocre years, and Welsh professional club rugby being in dire straits.

Dig a little deeper though and you’ll find a success story so great that it’s almost difficult to believe.

Cardiff and Vale College’s rugby programme has had the most stunning 12 months on both the Welsh and world stage. Winning games, lifting trophies and raising the institution’s profile on a global scale, all while offering learners a free opportunity to experience further education in the capital. A simply incredible story.

The college as a whole has only been in existence since 2011 after the merger of Coleg Glan Hafren and Barry College, while the A license rugby programme only began in 2016, building up in the intervening years to help produce a Wales international in the form of Ben Thomas and then winning the WRU College League in 2021.

Over the last few months that success has been taken to another level though as CAVC secured a second WRU College League title on the bounce, winning 11 out of 12 games to top the table during the regular season and then overturning a 10-point deficit with five minutes to go in the Final against Coleg Sir Gar to lift the trophy in dramatic fashion.

On the back of that Martyn Fowler’s men travelled out to Thailand to partake in the World Schools Festival earlier this month, and against some of the best schools sides in the world the players, coaches and support staff did themselves, their families and the college proud, firmly putting Cardiff and Vale College’s name among the best rugby schools on the planet.

CAVC started proceedings with a fixture against St Michael’s College Dublin, the winner of last season’s Leinster Junior Schools Cup and supplier of nine of the current Leinster senior men’s squad, emerging victorious thanks to another late score, progressing to the semi-finals against Grey College of Bloemfontein who count Ruan Pienaar, Morne Steyn, the Du Plessis brothers and former Cardiff favourite Pieter Muller as former pupils.

Despite a terrific and largely dominant performance the Welshmen fell just short, thanks in part to some “interesting” refereeing, going down by three points and heading into the third place play-off where once again the scoreline was desperately close but Millfield, who count Mako Vunipola and Chris Robshaw, alongside the legendary JPR Williams and Gareth Edwards, as former students, just won out.

A fourth place finish in the World Schools festival for a rugby programme that is six years old is a tremendous achievement, going toe-to-toe with schools that have incredible rugby pedigree.

There’s a lot often said about the pull of the private schools across the Severn Bridge on talented young lads, whether it be Millfield, Clifton College or further afield, but with CAVC’s coaching setup and facilities they are currently rivalling any school in the world on a rugby level, and with Ysgol Glantaf, Whitchurch High and Coleg y Cymoedd continuing to produce top class players, Cardiff Rugby have the makings of one of the best development pathways in world rugby.

What a year it’s been for Cardiff and Vale College’s rugby programme, and it feels like they’re only getting started!

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