A host of Cardiff Blues youngsters are back in collage today but Richard Hodges has been pleased with the way they have equipped themselves in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Hodges handed out nine debuts in the opening fixtures, with several players just 18-years-old. And while the Blues fell to consecutive defeats there were plenty of positives.
Elite Performance Pathway Manager Hodges, who took charge of the team, was disappointed with the results but reckons the likes of Ben Jones and Shane Lewis-Hughes can be proud of the way they performed.
He said: “Some of the boys out there, Ben Jones the fly-half is back in school on Monday and I’m just really proud with the way he’s handled the last two weeks.
“People like him have shown they have good potential but they have to keep working hard and learn the lessons of today.
“Over the course of the last two weeks Shane Lewis-Hughes has also impressed. He’s gone into the unfamiliar role of seven, which isn’t him, we don’t see him there but it’s needs must. He can develop into an out and out six who can challenge at this region quite quickly.”
Seventeen of the match-day 23 have come through the Blues academy pathway, with 19 playing schoolboy Dewar Shield rugby.
And while Jones and Lewis-Hughes now have a pair of regional appearances to their name, they are yet to feature in the Principality Premiership, which could be the next step in their development, alongside the Anglo-Welsh and British & Irish Cups.
Hodges continued: “You look at Ben Jones and Shane Lewis-Hughes they haven’t played Premiership rugby yet – they have skipped that part of the pathway.
“In December we have Ulster back-to-back in the British & Irish Cup and then in January we have Jersey, London Scottish, Sale and Worcester. There are six cracking fixtures for this group to get their teeth into.
“Ben Jones is still eligible for Blues Under-18s but he probably won’t play there because he needs to be challenged – it’s probably time to drip feed him into some Premiership rugby, Shane as well.”
The final player to make their debut for the region was Jim Botham, who came off the bench at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
A former pupil of Sedbergh School in Cumbria, Botham is of rich sporting pedigree – the son of former Cardiff favourite Liam Botham and grandson of cricketing legend Ian.
Botham featured for Wales Under-18s in the summer and Hodges has high hopes for his future in a Cardiff Blues jersey.
He continued: “Jim has come into the academy this year after coming through Sedbergh College up in the north of England. He went on the Wales Under-18s trip to South Africa in the summer and played in two of the three games and went well.
“He’s been out with a knee injury and has only played two senior games of rugby which have both been for Glamorgan Wanderers so to step up against Rob McCusker and Ollie Cracknell, he deserves some credit.
“Little intricacies and details he will learn from but we have a physical animal and specimen there that we can really develop.
“There’s a lot of sevens in front of him at the region so there is no rush. He is very raw and has missed that 15-18 bracket of development that age-grade rugby gives you in Wales.
“But there is certainly some genetics in the family! He’s one of the fittest boys in the whole Blues building, he has an ability and engine to keep working.
“Liam, his father, was watching, revisiting his old stomping ground. They are a cracking family to deal with and have supported him wholeheartedly – we hope he has a big future here.”