Cardiff Blues senior players and coaches held a coaching masterclass at Old Deer Park on Thursday as they maintained the strong relationship with London Welsh RFC.
Senior stars Olly Robinson, Josh Turnbull, Ellis Jenkins, Scott Andrews and coaches Richard Hodges and John Mulvihill got to grips with the club’s thriving youth, mini and junior sections, putting them through their paces with a variety of drills to develop attack, defence and breakdown skills.
They also held a Q&A session, where they were grilled by those in attendance about the pathway to becoming a professional rugby player, with more than 60 kids taking part.
Head coach Mulvihill, who visited the iconic club for the first time, had a fantastic time at Old Deer Park and was delighted to have the opportunity ahead of Friday’s opposed training session at London Scottish.
The Australian said: “It was a great day! We were invited up here to London Welsh to put some of the young players through some skills and drills, and it’s been fantastic for us to be at such a historic club, and we’ve even had some past players like John Taylor come down and it was awesome to meet him.
“Myself, Richard Hodges and four of the players put everyone into little groups and did some rugby drills based on their age and profiles, and we had some fun and games. We also had a really good Q&A session and it’s been really worthwhile for everyone.
“It was good to see not only the London Welsh crew coming out to support, but also some of the Welsh Exiles coming out and running out in the Welsh colours.
“Sometimes, these younger kids listen more to us than the big kids back in the Cardiff Blues training ground, although, we’d probably rather coach our own squad because, regardless of what we said, they’d run off in different directions, and that was brilliant to see as well!
“On Friday, with an open training session against London Scottish, it’s an opportunity for us to get our season started. We’ve been physical in the first two blocks and instead of losing bodies to friendly fires, we’ll be able to put ourselves under pressure in a proper game environment.
“If won’t be a full hit out, it will be some opposed units training with forwards and backs, and we’ll be looking at both sides of the ball, and will be under pressure in both defence and attack, with parts of it being live.”
London Welsh reverted back to amateur status in 2017, and their coaching team currently includes former Cardiff Blues outside half, Steven Shingler.
The club’s co-president, John Taylor, who is a Wales and British & Irish Lions legend, believes these opportunities play a role in London Welsh’s drive to maintain their Welsh identity, and was thrilled to see the turnout on Thursday.
The former flanker said: “Working with a professional club is a bonus but what’s really important is that London Welsh is becoming more Welsh in the last few years and we’ve gone back to the amateurs becoming the mainstay of the club.
“It’s been a real boost to have Cardiff Blues coming up here to give up their time so our guys can identify with people who have done it at the very top of the game, and it’s terrific.
“It’s one of the things that I’m thrilled that we are encouraging.
“It’s hugely important. I’m absolutely a London-Welshman - I had Welsh parents, and even though I was born and bred in England I always felt Welsh, and that is reinforced with these youngsters as well.
“Who knows, we might get a Welsh international from one of these youngsters who were here today.
“We have a strong connection with Martyn Ryan, who is on the board at Cardiff Blues and previously with London Welsh, and we keep the ties as tight as we possible can.
“We always used to play Cardiff on the morning of a Wales v England international in Twickenham. You won’t believe it but we used to have so many temporary stands out there that we once played against 9,000 people and it was an incredible occasion.
“The links have always been very tight, and when we became a professional club in the English system, they probably loosened a bit.
“But it’s wonderful to see the support we get from Wales and that we can push back the other way as well.”
Also in attendance to take part in the sessions were Welsh Exiles players from the local area.
Utility forward Turnbull, who worked on the contact area with Andrews and the older children in attendance, found the visit to be very beneficial and was delighted to link up with the historic club.
The Welsh international said: “Probably, when we saw the amount of kids here, we thought we might be out of our depth here! But it turned out really good.
“Everyone was really enthusiastic, wanted to get involved and wanted to pick our brains on drills that we do on a daily basis.
“They were keen to do it, they enjoyed it and that’s all you can ask for.
“Me and Bubba [Andrews] have done quite a bit of age grade coaching already, so it probably suited us to stick with the older group.
“We wanted to give them our thoughts and ideas on the contact area and we finished with some live drills so it was good.
“We’ve been up here in the past to do a few sessions, so these places also become familiar to us, as do clubs around our own region.
“It’s good to get out of the comfort zone and out of the region every now and again and exploring a club like London Welsh.
“There is a thriving group of players coming through here, and you’ve seen that from the players that turned up for this session.
“It’s a really historic club which will only go from strength to strength.
“A lot of them have Welsh connections, and I was speaking to one who was from the same village as my parents, so it’s a small world, and I’m sure some of the kids will go on to become professional rugby players at some point.”