Cardiff Blues can confirm their academy squad for the 2019-20 season with seven new faces added to the group.
With Keiron Assiratti, James Botham and Shane Lewis-Hughes all graduating to the senior squad, there is a fresh influx of talent and at an earlier age than previously.
Ben Burnell, Efan Daniel, Ethan Fackrell, Mason Grady, Cameron Lewis, Ethan Lloyd and Ryan Wilkins have all signed academy contrcts.
They join existing members Ioan Rhys Davies, Iestyn Harris, Callun James, Alex Varney and Ben Warren, training full time within the academy set-up.
Eight up and coming talents – Ben Thomas, Rhys Davies, Ioan Davies, Will Davies-King, Jamie Hill, Alun Lawrence, Max Llewellyn and Teddy Williams – remain part of the academy but will train full-time with the senior squad.
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues under-18 duo, Theo Cabango and Alex Mann will also join the academy programme over the summer, to complement their timetable with their regional and international age grade sides.
Academy manager, Gruff Rees, said: “It’s a really proud moment for us to see these boys develop both on and off the field. It was great to see James Botham, Keiron Assiratti and Shane Lewis-Hughes signing their first professional deals with the region, but it’s not all about signing contracts. It’s about achieving on the playing field, and the three of them are examples of boys who have performed on the senior field for the Blues.
“It’s a testament to the pathway that we were the side that put the most local players on the field in the Heineken Champions Cup last season.
“As academy staff, you have to be proud of that but also look to use it as motivation for the new influx of academy players coming in during the summer.
"We’ve been pleased with some of the opportunities handed to the academy players, and boys like Alun Lawrence have really stepped up to senior rugby and will have more work around the A team programme next season.
"We need others to step up now and follow in their lead in the 18-21 age bracket. You have talented boys like Iestyn Harries, Callun James, Ioan R Davies, Rhys Davies, Alex Varney. They’re guys we have to put a bit of heat on to flourish and produce themselves in the men’s game next year.
“I’m excited that we’re able to bring boys in from age grade onto academy contracts a little bit earlier. You look at the three under-16 boys - Ben Burnell, Efan Daniel and Ryan Wilkins - they’ve really shone with the under-16's combined team and we feel it’s time that we bring them in and invest in them.
“They’ve got the attitude and diligence to kick on in the next two years and likewise the under-18 boys - Ethan Fackrell, Ethan Lloyd and Mason Grady. They were impressive for the under-18 last year, as well as for their respective schools and colleges, and will be around those teams once again this year. There are others as well in the same age who have won international honours and we want to work closely to dove-tail the age grade and academy programmes as one.”
Like the senior squad, the academy have already returned to pre-season training with those involved in the Wales Under-20 and 18 set-up to drip feed in.
Ioan Rhys Davies