While players like Lee Byrne, Shane Williams and Ryan Jones may steal the headlines, there"â¬â¢s a whole army of unsung heroes working away right across Ospreylia to ensure the ongoing success of the region.
One of those is Graham Court, Under-16 team manager since the inception of the Ospreys in 2003, and now, also providing valuable administrative support to Regional Performance Development Manager, Andrew Millward.
Well known in South Wales rugby circles for many seasons, Graham, from Maesteg has more than thirty years of rugby administration experience and is an important part of the Ospreys set-up. His playing days were cut short as a youngster by a knee injury, but not before he managed to make his one and only appearance for Maesteg against Pontypool on dark and wet December Saturday when we didn't have enough players."
An early, enforced move into administrative roles saw him join the Old Parish committee, where he acted as a press officer during the late seventies, before he took over as club secretary in 1981, a position he held for 10 years. After stepping down, he was appointed on to the committee of the Central Glamorgan Rugby Union, doubling up as Under-21 Team Manager for a number of years. At the end of the nineties, he was appointed President of Maesteg Harlequins, staying in post for five seasons before becoming part of the fledgling Ospreys organisation back in 2003 as Under-16 Team Manager.
It's a role that Graham clearly thrives on, and having initially combined his real job at Corus Port Talbot with his evening job at the Ospreys, he has now stepped up his involvement with the region following retirement. He concedes that the role, which is entirely voluntary, does take a huge commitment from both him personally and his family, but he says that the rewards make the efforts worthwhile. He said:
"I get real enjoyment out of it, there's no denying that. I wasn't able to play rugby, so I went down the admin route quite a few years ago now and I'm happy being able to contribute in some way. It's a big commitment in terms of time. There's three evenings a week training and matches as well, and now that I've retired I've also taken on more admin duties, helping out with the paperwork in the office. My wife is used to it, it's what I've done for over thirty years now so there's no problem there, but I think that most people would be surprised by the number of hours that go into phone calls to players, coaches, management, districts, referees, opposition, to everybody! I'm very much the go-between, the organiser making sure everybody is where they need to be, when they need to be, to ensure matches go ahead! Because of the nature of the role, the commitment is just as much from my wife as it is from me as she puts up with it all.
"It's not the glamorous side of rugby that everybody sees on the TV that I'm involved in. Looking at my rugby admin career, it's always been about giving something back to the community, either working with my local clubs in Maesteg, at District level, or here now, helping to provide youngsters with a real opportunity to make something of their talent."
Talking about his present duties, Graham's face lights up at the thought of what has been achieved by the Ospreys age-grade structure during the first six years, and more importantly, of the challenges that still lie ahead. He clearly loves what he does, and he says the work is incredibly rewarding:
"I enjoy doing what I do, that is a big part of why I do it. I'm a rugby fan first and foremost and I get real pleasure from being part of an ambitious and forward thinking organisation that aims to succeed, but wants to do it through a sensible, sustainable structure, and values the importance of developing young talent. We've got an enviable track record for developing talent, but no organisation can afford to stand still, you have to strive for improvement and that is what the Ospreys are looking to do."
"I get tremendous satisfaction from doing what I do. It can be a difficult time for young men aged between 15 and 18, there's a lot going on in their life, but I enjoying working with them and playing a small part in what we do at the Ospreys to develop them as a rugby player and as a human being. So much can happen to the boys at their age, and obviously, not everyone will go on to become professional rugby players, it's inevitable that there will be some drop-off, but the work that the coaches and Academy staff do will help prepare them for life in rugby or outside of the game.
"Since we started, so many players have come right the way through from the Under-16 side to become fully fledged Ospreys, and it's fantastic to see them flourish. I remember the likes of Dan Biggar, Ashley Beck, Ryan Bevington and Kristian Phillips coming into the system and now they are the latest batch of players to step up. Equally as rewarding though, is when I'm out with my wife and I may bump into one of the young lads who I've worked with over the years, and their gratitude that they show, wherever they are in life, it makes you realise the impact that you have on their lives."
With the Ospreys investing heavily in player and coach development, Graham sees exciting times ahead for the region. With recent changes to the structure now starting to have an impact, he says that the Ospreys production line should be working better than ever in the seasons to come:
"I've been involved since day one of the Ospreys and it has evolved tremendously since then. Obviously, things are far more professionally done now, and the structures that are in place can only improve how, as an organisation, we identify talent and then, provide the means for the young players to achieve their goals. There's a lot more time and effort being put into it now then ever, more than anybody would ever imagine."
"A great thing to see has been how the senior players are now starting to get involved. They are being encouraged to develop themselves as coaches by working with the age-grade sides, which benefits them in the long run, but also, has a tremendously positive impact on the young players. Andrew Millward was the first, working with the 2005/06 Championship winning side that had the likes of Ashley Beck and Dan Biggar in the team, Filo then got involved, and both of those have now moved on in their coaching careers. This season, we are fortunate enough to have Steve Tandy and Andy Lloyd involved. I think they are enjoying it, finding it beneficial, and I know it's certainly the case for the young players they are working with.
"The structures that have been put in place doesn't just focus on a certain group of players and ignore everybody else, as maybe there has been a tendency to do in the past throughout Welsh rugby. The system now does allow us to pick up on late developers, or those who may have dropped off the radar at Under-16 level if not selected for the Ospreys. Key to that is an excellent relationship with the Districts. The work that the Districts do is extremely valuable part of the development pathway, and we work very closely with them every step of the way. It's inevitable that there will be talented players who we miss occasionally, who slip under the radar, but because of the relationships that we have fostered, it doesn't mean that they are lost to our system. The more boys we have playing rugby, at any level, the stronger our player base, and the stronger the Ospreys will be in the long term."