As Wales' four professional teams return to Guinness PRO12 action this weekend, potential World Cup stars of the future are seizing the opportunity to take hold of the reins at the Ospreys, Scarlets, Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues.
Mark Davies, Chief Executive of Pro Rugby Wales said: “This is a huge time for rugby as a
whole with the excitement and passion of the Rugby World Cup reaching new audiences and driving enthusiasm, enjoyment and support of our game – with the ultimate goal of increasing participation.
“Our clubs, schools, Premiership, Pro Rugby teams and WRU combine to deliver a constant stream of talent exemplified last weekend by two of Wales’ rising stars Lloyd Williams and Gareth Davies combining to create a devastating try against England when there was so much concern about the impact of injuries.
“Just as in last Rugby World Cup, another positive for our game is the number of new players in our four pro rugby squads who are getting the opportunity to step up and prove what they are capable of.
“The remarkable conveyor belt of talent in Wales is an inspiration to players of all ages to enjoy the game and strive to do their best - and the spirit of Rugby World Cup places even more focus on us working together to ensure we continue to support all our stars throughout the game.
“Our goal must be to increase our player numbers in clubs and schools and unearth even more of the talent that’s out there. It’s so important that we all harness the legacy of a remarkable Rugby World Cup and do whatever we can to contribute to the growth of our wonderful game in support and participation.
“We wish Wales all the very best today against Fiji and equally to our four Welsh Pro teams as they fly the flag for exciting four nations action in the Guinness PRO12 and travel away for fixtures in Italy, Scotland and Ireland.”
While the four Pro teams are without 30 of their squad players from Rugby World Cup duty, a number of young stars will be taking their opportunities this weekend. Here are 12 of Pro Rugby’s players to watch this weekend.
On Friday the Ospreys play Edinburgh away kick off 6pm; on Saturday the Newport Gwent Dragons take on Leinster at the RDS, kick off 2.30pm - followed by Connacht v Cardiff Blues kick off 5pm and then the Scarlets travel to Zebre kick of 2pm on Sunday.
FUTURE STARS - PRO RUGBY WALES’ ONES TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND IN PRO12
Rory Thornton: 20 year old second row. Wales U20 captain for this year's 6N and Junior World Cup and was part of extended RWC squad. Made his PRO12 debut last season and has played in both games this season. From Swansea, Bonymaen RFC - the same as Alun Wyn Jones.
Nicky Smith: 21-year old loose head prop. Won first Wales cap in autumn internationals and was part of the extended RWC squad. From Swansea, came through Waunarlwydd RFC.
Sam Underhill: Openside flanker, 19 years old, England U18 captain in 2014 and Gloucester Academy captain. Made his debut off bench against Ulster in Round 1 of the PRO12 1 this season and first start in Round 2 v Munster where he won man of the match.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS
Ollie Griffiths; 20 year old back row, having played for Wales U20 and Cross Keys; flanker Griffiths was named Black and Ambers Captain for their 2014/15 campaign and is their youngest skipper in history. Born in Newbridge, he played for the Dragons U18s before the Academy placed the young gun into Newport RFC where he went onto to make over 30 appearances resulting in a call up into the Wales U20s squad; he captained Wales U20s squad against Scotland U20s in their Six Nations campaign and was named in the 2015 World Rugby U20s Championship Squad.
Elliot Dee; 21 year-old hooker, from Newport having played for Wales U20, as well as Bedwas, Cross Keys and Pontypool clubs.
Angus O'Brien; 21 year-old outside half has played for Wales U20 and Bedwas, Cross Keys, and Newport RFC.
Dillon Lewis; 19 year-old Prop came up through the ranks of the Pontypridd RFC mini, junior and youth sections. Whilst studying at Coleg y Cymoedd, Church Village-born Lewis was drafted into the Cardiff Blues age grade system and was capped by Wales at youth level.
Having appeared for Pontypridd towards the end of the 2013/14 season, Lewis was included in the club's senior squad as a Blues Academy allocated player at the commencement of the ensuing campaign. He was part of the Wales Under-20 squad during the Rugby World Championships in Italy in the summer of 2015 and made his senior debut for Cardiff Blues in the LV=Cup fixture with Wasps in February 2015.
Garyn Smith; 20 year-old Cilfynydd-born centre, Smith came up through the ranks of Pontypridd juniors and youth, and in doing so followed an honourable family tradition as both father Steve and grandfather Joe had represented the club, the latter also a successful coach with the club. A hard-hitting and creative presence in midfield, Smith graduated through the Cardiff Blues Academy and from there was given a placement with the Pontypridd senior squad in the summer of 2013. Having already been capped at youth level, Smith went on to represent Wales Under 20s during the 2013/2014 season and at the Junior World Championships in Italy in 2015. Smith made his senior Cardiff Blues debut in November 2014 against Newcastle Falcons and finished his first season with nine appearances in total, including a first try against Zebre on the final day of the campaign.
Aled Summerhill; 21 year-old full back/wing who started his rugby career with Porth RFC at the age of six, then moved to Pontypridd RFC Mini and Junior sections until the age of nine, before joining his Rhondda Schools U11 teammates at Treorchy RFC. He played outside half for Treorchy and Rhondda Schools until the age of fifteen, when he was converted to centre. Summerhill studied at Coleg Morgannwg and represented the Blues at Under-16 level and Under-18 level where he has played for the past two years. At the age of seventeen, Summerhill trained with the Wales Sevens and was called up to train with the Blues senior side in the summer of 2013. He toured South Africa with the Wales Under-18s in August, starting all three matches against France, England and South Africa at outside centre. For the 2013/14 season, and as part of his on-going development, Summerhill was allocated to Pontypridd RFC as a regional player and helped the club achieve the league and cup double.
Jack Condy; 19-year-old back row Condy made a name for himself, in the Principality Premiership with Cross Keys, as a strong ball carrier with assured handling and finishing power scoring two tries against Carmarthen Quins at Carmarthen Park last season.
Number 8 Condy, from Penallta, made his debut for Cross Keys against fellow Dragons feeder club Bedwas in February 2014 and has gone on to make 23 appearances for the Gwent side, scoring four tries. Condy captained Penallta to a Welsh Youth Cup title in 2013-14 before breaking into the senior game with Cross Keys.
Daniel Jones, 19 year-old Wales Under 20s outside half Daniel Jones, from Carmarthen, has developed through the region’s development pathway progressing from the age grade, to the Regional Academy before being handed a development contract. 27 appearances in the Welsh Premiership for Carmarthen Quins has seen him score 138 points; two tries, 31 conversions, 21 penalties and 1 drop goal. He made his regional debut in the LV= Cup clash against Cardiff Blues in November 2014 coming off the replacements bench.
Tom Price, 22 year-old lock Price, born in Lemington Spa, stands at 2 metres 3 centimeters (6’8”) and weighs in at 115kg, is a graduate of Leicester Tigers Academy and was also a member of England’s Junior World Cup Championship winning side in 2013. The lock brings an exciting edge to the Scarlets. He has been capped by England in three age groups and made his senior debut for Leicester Tigers in January 2013. The all-round sportsman played his junior rugby with Stratford Upon Avon RFC and Kineton High School and represented Warwickshire through the age grades. Price, like Scarlets’ second row Jake Ball, is a keen cricketer and played Warwickshire District cricket and won a schools’ county football title.