As they prepare to take full control of elite player development within the region from the WRU next month, Ospreys bosses have revealed the full extent of the investment they will making each year to fund the continued search for the next generation of talent.
Under the terms of the new participation agreement between the regions and the WRU, signed back in September 2009, the Ospreys are to take advantage of an opportunity to apply for a licence to take full control of the development system for the first time since 2005, at an annual cost to the organisation in excess of £300,000 per season.
It is an investment in the future of the region, which the Ospreys insist will help to ensure their long-term success as Andrew Hore, Ospreys Elite Performance Director, explained:
"Our commitment to developing young Welsh talent is at the very heart of our long term plans to create a sustainable rugby business on and off the field. If we are going to achieve our aims, it is vitally important that we get the systems and structures in place to ensure young Welsh talent gets every opportunity. Since I took the post with the Ospreys, I have been working hard to allow this to happen, and with us now being able to assume full control of the elite player development system, it is fantastic news and a major step forward for the region."
Back in 2003 at the time of the launch of regional rugby, the regions were solely responsible for running their own development systems. However, there were major changes in March 2005, when the WRU secured EU Objective One funding, supported by the Welsh Assembly Government, to deliver a new Academy programme for elite rugby players identified as potential, future professional rugby players. Under the terms of the Objective One funding, the WRU assumed full responsibility for Academy employees, although even at that time, the Ospreys opted to supplement the Union employees with additional Ospreys staff.
When Objective One funding expired in 2009, the WRU opted to continue providing Academy funding. Now though, with the option of the regions assuming full control once again available, the Ospreys have reaffirmed their commitment to elite player development, a commitment which they see as an investment in the long-term future of the region. Hore added:
"We will still be receiving some funding from the WRU, but the overall annual cost is substantially higher. We are happy to supplement the funding as we strongly believe that the only way to ensure long term, sustainable success for the Ospreys is to develop from within, and our track record for doing this is unrivalled. To give the young talent across the region a chance is central to everything that we are doing here. The success that we have had to date in developing talent is undeniable; no other region has produced the level of players that we have for their senior team, let alone supplying players for the national squads at the level we do."
In the short time since the Ospreys came into being, the organisation boasts a record for player development that is unrivalled in the British game, with more than two-thirds of the current senior squad having come through the ranks at the region. Eight current Welsh internationals are products of the first Ospreys Academy, which came into being in 2005, with two of those - Alun Wyn Jones and James Hook - now British Lions.
The region's commitment to youth is further illustrated by the startling statistics which show that the Ospreys boast the youngest player ever to feature in the Heineken Cup (Tom Prydie) and four of the five youngest in the Magners League, while Prydie also set a new record in March as the youngest ever full Welsh cap when he was named to face Italy in the Six Nations.
Andrew Hore concluded:
"Elite youth development doesn't come cheaply; it is a major operation that requires financing. Thankfully, the directors here have recognised the long-term benefits of a system which brings through future Ospreys. The business plan that they have in place identifies player development as a priority, and they have shown time and again a willingness, where possible, to invest in facilities and structures that will allow us to continue punching above our weight. The truth is though, that with the Ospreys being run as an efficient business, there isn't a bottomless pit for us to dip into.
"When you look at the big clubs in England, or in France, our budgets pale in comparison. We simply don't have the finances that they do, which makes the importance of developing our own players even more important. We realise that we are committed to it, but, like I said, it comes at a cost. While the funding that we will receive from the union will cover some of the costs, we know that we will have to work hard behind the scenes to make up the difference, enabling us to continue the excellent work that we are doing right across the region to develop young talent, the next generation of Ospreys.
"An analysis of our current senior squad reveals that over 80 per cent have been developed locally, a statistic that we are justifiably proud of. It is something that we've always believed in and we've always strived to ensure that we continue to produce the best locally based talent for our region. But, it comes at a cost. It's not just about squad costs, the business will now have to find hundreds of thousands of pounds each season that will be invested into systems and personnel that will ensure we continue to produce the best young Welsh talent."