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Cardiff Blues under-18 take on Scotland counterparts in invaluable development weekend

Age Grade & Academy | 14th February 2020

While the senior side travel to Galway for a crucial Guinness PRO14 encounter this weekend, the Cardiff Blues under-18 side will also be on the road as they make a trip to Edinburgh for a crucial development opportunity.

The youngsters, who currently lead the WRU Regional Age Grade Championship, will take on the Scotland under-18 side at the capital on Sunday, but the weekend goes beyond what will happen on the field.

Travelling from Bristol on Friday, they will treat the weekend as a professional game environment, replicating a typical away trip for the senior side. 

While coaches and analysts will be leading reviews and previews, preparing for Sunday’s game as a complete group and as units, the players will also have a responsibility to ensure their nutritions and sleeping are maintained to a standard.

On Saturday, they will have an extended team run, before facing the national side in three 30 minute games on Sunday. Monday will see recovery and reviews before heading back towards Wales ahead of Tuesday’s winner-takes-all clash against Scarlets under-18 at Sardis Road.

Gruff Rees says the weekend will give his youngsters, and the staff, an invaluable opportunity to develop both on and off the field in a fresh environment.

The academy manager is excited at the opportunity and emphasises the importance of development opportunities over success at this level.

“It’s a really good opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity to savour different cultures and play against teams from outside the regional set-up in Wales, and that’s really important, going forward, for these boys’ development,” said Rees.

“We’re able to see how they interact off the field and we’re trying to develop them from a holistic and mental side, and marry that up with the rugby.

“What we’re keen to do is look at how a senior professional side would tackle a Guinness PRO14 weekend away and at this age, hopefully a couple of them could be pushing towards senior rugby over the next couple of years.

"It can be an alien experience. I’ve seen boys doing it in the past, without any prior experience, and it’s a step up. And it’s the same for coaches alike.

“It’s an important learning curve. You’ll get a taste of the travel, the meetings, the previews, the hotel routine with the food, the preparation for the game, the key messages alongside the game itself and the review. 

“What comes next will also be critical in terms of some of them being able to push forward for a quick turnaround into another game on Tuesday, and we might look at that game as another development opportunity.

“We knew the calendar would be tight, but we’re not too worried, in the bigger picture, if we win, lose or draw these games.

“It’s about giving different experiences and different opportunities. As it stands, we’ve seen nearly 50 players playing for the under-18 team this season, between both blocks.

“The important thing is that we provide the platform for opportunity, and we’ll keep doing that in terms of challenging the best of the best, many of whom are on academy contracts and will be involved this weekend.

“There’s also the opportunities for others to put their hands forward and it’s important for us to keep them in the pathway and keep their rugby journey going.

“We’re in good communication with the Scottish Rugby Union about things that we can do off the field, and are sharing ideas. We know a few of the senior staff there and have been touching base with them.

“We want to get out of playing the same teams and going through the same training routines from year to year as an under-18 group.

“We want to explore different avenues that replicates the senior game, and be creative in how we manage the calendar. 

“We’re working alongside the clubs and the schools and colleges, and when we shoehorn something like this in, it can’t happen without the support of Gavin Dacey, the Welsh Rugby Union and the clubs as well. 

“We really appreciate that support.”