Richard Hodges reckons the Anglo-Welsh Cup is a golden opportunity for Cardiff Blues' most promising youngsters to gain valuable experience and make a stake for future first-team appearances.
Hodges, who is Cardiff Blues’ Elite Performance Pathway Manager, will take the reins for this year’s competition, having also taken charge during the British and Irish Cup campaign.
The former Wales Sevens assistant coach is expecting a tough encounter during Sunday’s opening clash against Exeter Chiefs, but is relishing the potential of facing experienced opposition at Sandy Park.
“It’s live on BT Sport, it’s going to be tough at times and as coaches we understand that,” said Hodges.
“A lot of the players are experiencing their first ever professional players week in the build-up, so have to their schedules with their school and college commitments.
“Last week, Exeter fielded the likes of Dave Ewers, Sam Hill, Ollie Devoto. These are the players we want to see playing on Sunday, so our youngsters can give a real crack at it.”
Hodges has revealed centre Garyn Smith will lead the side over the weekend, and sees it as a big opportunity for the last season’s young player of the year.
He also suggested Sunday’s squad will contain a mixture of youth and experience, with some senior individuals also gaining valuable time on the pitch.
“We’ve got some boys who are coming in to the team who haven’t had a lot of first team minutes this season so far, such as the likes of Brad Thyer, James Down, Kirby Myhill and Garyn.
“Top Tier One academy players such as Harri Millard and Shane Lewis-Huges are boys who have made names for themselves on the international age grade circuit, but many of them will be making their first team debuts this weekend.
“What you will get from this group of boys is a shedload of energy and enthusiasm come Sunday afternoon, and it will be good to see how they go.”
Working closely with Cardiff Blues’ young players, as well as within the Wales U20’s set-up, Hodges views the Anglo-Welsh Cup as an important step in a player’s development, also giving senior coaches an opportunity to assess the success of their pathway programme.
“We want to make sure, at the end of this Anglo-Welsh campaign, that we are more informed and educated about the youngsters coming through our pathway.
“We expect and acceptable level of performance during these games so we can decide who really is going to go on and maybe play 50 times for this region. Some of them will, and some of them unfortunately won’t. Those are decisions that this competition allows us to make.”
Cardiff Blues tasted success in the Anglo-Welsh Cup back in 2009, with a 50-12 victory over Gloucester at Twickenham.
The victorious side consisted of young players, who would become key players for both region and country within a few months, such as Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny.
Hodges has cited the victory as an inspiration to his young group of players ahead of this weekend’s opening clash.
“Billy Millard (Rugby General Manager), spoke to the group yesterday about when we won this competition a few years back at Twickenham.
“They started that campaign with a very young group but then that developed into a first team group by the time they went to the final, and won by 50-odd points.”