Cardiff Blues legend Martyn Williams still hasn't forgotten about the days he played for Wales Under 18 - even though it is now 25 years ago!
The stars of the future will be playing at the Arms Park – Wednesday, 4 April and Sunday, 8 April - over the Easter period in the Under 18 Six Nations Festival with Wales facing France, Ireland and Italy.
There are two Cardiff Blues players in the Wales squad for the Festival, both from Ysgol Glantaf and they will all be aiming to use the matches as a stepping stone for their professional careers.
‘Nugget’ is one of the greatest players produced by the old Welsh Schools system, going on to play on three British & Irish Lions tours and winning 100 caps for his country. Having played against an England side containing one of his future international rivals and Lions team mates, Phil Greening, in 1993, he won the first of his Welsh caps in 1996.
Over the next two weeks the cream of rugby talent from the Six Nations will be in Wales playing in the inaugural Under 18 Six Nations Festival and Williams believes it will be an even bigger stepping stone in the young careers of the players than when he took his first steps on the international ladder than in his day.
“The system has changed since I was a starry-eyed teenager at Coed Y Lan Comprehensive School. What isn’t any different is the desire for the players to represent their country,” said Williams.
“The Six Nations Festival is going to be a fantastic opportunity for the players from all nations to measure themselves against each other and see if they have got what it takes to take the next step into the professional game. Just as a number of my team mates back in 1993 went on to play senior international rugby, I’m sure there will be even more from the Class of 2018.
“There is a much higher chance of players in the current National Under 18 teams making it all the way into their senior international sides than when the game was amateur. The next few weeks will be one of their early proving grounds and I’m sure there will be a large number of scouts and coaches watching the matches to check out the talent."
Williams played for Wales Under 15 and then Wales Under 18 at schools level. In between he played for the Boys Clubs of Wales in football at Under 16 level.
When he graduated into the senior ranks the game was on the cusp of turning professional. By the time he hung up his boots in 2012 he had experienced a sea change in his sport.
Now he is casting envious eyes at the new generation of Welsh international wannabees and hoping they make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead in their games against France, Ireland and Italy.
“These are the layers we are hopefully going to see playing for Wales in the Six Nations in three or four years’ time. Of my Under 18 side Leigh Davies, Nathan Thomas, Nick Walne and Jon Funnell all came through, but the pathway in place now means the current crop have a much better chance,” added Williams.
“What the Festival will do is give them a taste of international rugby and also give them the chance to bid for Academy contracts. It is a huge showcase for them.
“Of all the things I remember from that period of my career, the words of my school coach, Brian Lease, have stayed with me. He told me that while I was a big fish at my school and club, the easy part was getting into the Wales team – the hard work is staying there and playing to your potential.”
Wales Squad for the U18 Six Nations Festival
Backs: Ellis Bevan (Bryanston School/Exiles), Dafydd Buckland (Newport HS/Dragons), Sam Costelow (Oakham School/Exiles), Harri Doel (Coleg Sir Gar/Scarlets), Frankie Jones (Neath-Port Talbot College/Ospreys), Osian Knott (Coleg Sir Gar/Scarlets), Evan Lloyd (Coleg Gwent/Dragons), Ioan Lloyd (Clifton College/Exiles), Aneurin Owen (Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw/Dragons), Louis Rees-Zammit (Hartpury College/Exiles), Joe Roberts (Coleg Sir Gar/Scarlets), Josh Thomas (Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr/Ospreys),
Forwards: Robert Brookson (Coleg Gwent/Dragons), Ben Carter (Caldicot/Dragons), Ioan Rhys Davies (Coleg y Cymoedd/Cardiff Blues), Archie Griffin (Marlborough College/Exiles), Will Griffiths (Coleg Gwent/Dragons), Cameron Lewis (Coleg Sir Gar/Ospreys), Jac Morgan (Coleg Sir Gar/Ospreys), Jac Price (Coleg Sir Gar/Ospreys), William Sanderson (Coleg Llandrillo/RGC), Carwyn Tuipulotu (Sedbergh School/Exiles), Olly White (Llandovery College/RGC), Callum Williams (Ysgol Maes Y Gwendraeth/Scarlets), Teddy Williams (Ysgol Gantaf/Cardiff Blues), Luke Yendle (Newport High/Dragons)
Six Nations Under 18 Festival Match Schedule
Saturday, 31 March - Centre for Sporting Excellence, Ystrad Mynach
12 noon: Scotland v England
2.30pm: Wales v France
5.00pm: Ireland v Italy
Wednesday, 4 April - Cardiff Arms Park
12noon: Italy v England
2.30pm: Ireland v Wales
5.00pm: France v Scotland
Sunday, 8 April - Cardiff Arms Park
12noon: Ireland v Scotland
2.30pm: Italy v Wales
5.00pm: France v England
Tickets for each matchday are £5 adults, U16s go free (maximum 2 free tickets per paying adult), . Tickets for matchday 1 are on sale now at Ystrad Mynach CSE and by calling 01443 864767. Tickets for Matchdays 2 and 3 will only be available on the gate on matchday.