Coleg y Cymoedd will be looking to defend their title as Welsh Schools & Colleges League champions when they welcome Coleg Gwent to Sardis Road for a mouth-watering final on Tuesday evening (KO 7.30pm).
Lee Davies’ side will be looking to wrap up their third consecutive championship, having reached the final for an eighth consecutive time, following a semi-final victory over Coleg Sir Gar.
The current crop of Cymoedd players will be following in the footsteps of current Cardiff Blues stars such as Shane Lewis-Hughes, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans and Harri Millard, who all represented the college in the final.
Cardiff Blues academy manager, Gruff Rees, has applauded the record of Davies’ side but expects a fierce battle in Pontypridd on Tuesday.
Rees said: “They have a fantastic record. We say it’s not about the winning or losing, but you have to respect the constant and consistent performances over a number of years.
“More importantly, there is a good range of players that have come through the Cymoedd programme and go on to succeed at the highest level at Cardiff Blues and beyond, which is fantastic.
“They’ll come up against Coleg Gwent, which will be a tough battle. Coleg Gwent have impressed me this year. They’re organised, strong defensively over the ball and have a good set-piece, especially with their driving game.
“It will be an interesting challenge, physically, for Cymoedd, which they tend to match up pretty well to, but it’s also a chance to see how they can open up.
“They have some exciting players in the backline in the form of boys like Cameron Winnett, Ryan Wilkins and Harvey Nash at nine.
“Hopefully they’ll be able to flourish and I’m sure they will.”
Cymoedd’s Alex Mann, Ethan Fackrell, Ryan Wilkins, Efan Daniels and captain Rhys Anstey are all contracted to the Cardiff Blues academy, while the majority of players involved in the final are members of the Cardiff Blues under-18 side.
Cymoedd head coach, Davies, is confident his players will be able to handle the occasion but warns that there is no room for complacency against Coleg Gwent.
The head coach said: “We are preparing for a huge challenge because we know Coleg Gwent will be very well coached and hugely motivated. For my players it is all about how they manage the occasion.
“It’s good for us that the game is being played at our home venue for the third year in a row, but it is all about doing justice to ourselves on what will be a big stage.
“Having beaten them once this season, and qualified for the final by beating our biggest rivals Coleg Sir Gar in Llanelli last week, we have to beware the England scenario at the World Cup. We can’t afford to have played our final a week too early.
“We are only in our ninth year of a rugby programme, but we are starting to see the fruits of our work. Dillon Lewis, Jarrod Evans, Seb Davies and Tom Williams have all gone on to play for Wales and we have high hopes of Shane Lewis-Hughes following them shortly.
“Half-a-dozen of our players have full time Academy contracts with Cardiff Blues and 26 of our squad are in the Blues U18 programme. There are also lots of former students playing in the professional and semi-pro game.
“But it isn’t all about rugby. We are offering 28 different A levels to our students alongside a number of vocational courses and education is equally important in what we do.”
The final will wrap up another successful Schools and Colleges League campaign for the Cardiff Blues pathway, with four of the top six sides in the final league standings coming from the region (Coleg y Cymoedd, Cardiff & Vale College, Ysgol Glantaf, Whitchurch High School).
With attention set to turn to the second block of regional age grade rugby, Rees is positive about Cardiff Blues’ involvement in the Schools and Colleges League and believes it offers an important platform for promising youngsters to receive further high-performance services.
The academy manager added: “For us, having four schools and colleges finishing in the top six is great, even though winning is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to the development pathway.
“What it does offer for us is a level of a junior academy, where we’ve got strength and conditioning that we try to support some of the needs, in particular around Glantaf, Coleg y Cymoedd and Cardiff & Vale College, and some of the programmes that the staff are doing for the players there.
“To underpin our academy structures is excellent for us. It’s not about the wins or losses, it’s about how we develop each individual player.
“We’re increasing the number of players receiving high-performance service, and are managing to replicate a lot of the academy standards out and about in the region.
“That takes us smoothly towards age grade rugby, which makes it an easier progression compared to going from low standard to high performance. We’re pretty linear in everything that we’re doing, and that’s a compliment to the work that’s being done out around our schools and colleges.”
Coleg y Cymoedd: Cameron Winnett; Steff Davies, Macauley Rowley, Ryan Wilkins, Cavan Davies; Tyler Morris, Harvey Nash; Harrison Chapman, Corben Evans, Travis Green, Rhys Anstey (capt.), Cai James, Alex Mann, Ethan Fackrell, Ryan Jenkins
Replacements: Efan Daniels, Ellis Fackrell, Rhys Barrett, Rhys Dauncey, Dylan Williams, Morgan Roach, Cameron Samuel, Mitchel Jones