Cardiff Blues academy coach, T Rhys Thomas, believes the Celtic Cup will provide valuable exposure for the region’s promising youngsters.
Wales’ Capital Region open their campaign by welcoming defending champions Leinster A to the Arms Park on Saturday, August 24.
Thomas leads the charge alongside Gethin Jenkins, with Aled James and Craig Everett also a part of the management team, and have been boosted by the likes of Tim Grey, James Ratti and Thomas Davies, who have been training alongside the senior side during pre-season.
The former Wales international is excited by the blend of talent at his disposal, as they aim to combine a mix of regional youngsters with stand-out Indigo Group Premiership players.
“The whole purpose is to close that gap between the Premiership and the regional game, and it gives those youngsters an opportunity and a chance,” said the former hooker.
“You have the likes of Ioan Davies, who shone during the Under-20 World Cup over the summer, and it’ll be great for a player like that to have the experience of playing with higher-level individuals in higher-level rugby.
“It was important to us, having spent a year in the Premiership, to give some of those boys an opportunity as well, because there are some gems in that league, especially in our region where we have three excellent clubs who finished as the top three last season.
“That was a huge achievement for the region, and we had a real appetite to get those boys in and have a spine of experience throughout the team.
“It’s not just about chucking the youngsters into the deep end, it’s a competition designed to bridge the gap so that gives us an opportunity to bring experienced, stand-out players from the Premiership into the side with players from Cardiff, Merthyr and Ponty all involved.”
Thomas was also a member of the coaching team for the inaugural Celtic Cup campaign, alongside Jenkins and Richie Rees, who has joined the senior set-up as backs and attack coach.
According to TRT, he benefitted from last season’s experience and insists the competition is an important hands-on learning curve for the coaches involved.
“Last season, Gethin was still playing, and I had a little bit of experience under my belt, but this time last year we were thrown into the deep-end, alongside Richie, who was very good at the time and had a lot of experience.
“Everything was pretty new to us and it was the highest standard of players that I had coached.
“In many aspects it was a great hands-on experience for us to learn by being thrown into the mix and this year, having picked up more experience throughout the year with Cardiff RFC and the academy, we’re really looking forward to it as a coaching team.
“Melon has a presence around the place, and love him or hate him, you just want to impress him with your rugby. That’s the man he is.
“He’s in all the Whatsapp groups, and is involved with everything we send out and the meetings we hold and you always look to him as a player to impress him and put your stamp down.
“He’s very honest and I really appreciate that. Especially in the environment that we’re used to, honesty is the way forward.”