Andrew Millward has paid tribute to everybody involved in the Ospreys’ recent WRU Regional Age Grade Championship success, hailing it as a “great team effort on and off the pitch”.
The Eyasses secured the U18 crown with a comprehensive 43-14 defeat of Cardiff Blues in last week’s final at Ystrad Mynach, running in seven tries to complete a remarkable turnaround having suffered heavy defeats to the Scarlets and the Blues in the opening weeks, conceding 68 points and 11 tries while scoring just the 10 points and a solitary try themselves.
Reflecting on the hard work putting in by Head Coach Steffan James and his coaching team, along with the efforts of the squad, Rugby General Manager, Millward, said:
“You have to take your hat off to everybody involved for what has been a great team effort, on and off the pitch. They had a very sticky start to the season but stuck to their plan, focused on performance rather than the result, and got their just rewards. They should all be very proud of their efforts, as should all Ospreys supporters.”
Millward is in no doubt as to the reason behind the sticky start experienced by the young Ospreys, having watched closely as a new squad came together for the first time in pre-season.
“We moved away from an academy system quite a few years ago now as believe that focusing on a smaller, elite group, can actually have a detrimental effect by narrowing the player base as youngsters can become disillusioned if they see it as a closed shop.
“There’s no right way or a wrong way to operate a development programme, but we know what works for us. What we found at the start of the U18s season is that at other regions players tended to be directed towards one particular college, where they played and trained together as a college team prior to the start of the regional age grade season.
“Our approach was different. Our players are encouraged to make the right choice for their own educational and personal circumstances, be that college or school. We have three colleges within the region, and we actively support the rugby programme at each of them to ensure the ongoing growth of playing numbers at an age when it traditionally drops off.
“When our U18 squad came together, the diversity within the group was evident. Looking at the team that played against the Blues in the final, we had players from Bridgend, Neath Port Talbot and Gower Colleges. In addition, there were players who are still attending, and representing, Porthcawl, Gowerton, Olchfa, Ystalyfera and Gwyr schools.
“It’s also a young group of players, with over half of the squad in their first year at this age-grade, stepping up from last year’s U16s East and West squads, so there is definitely a period of acclimatising to the higher level.
“Basically at the start of the season, what you had was a new and inexperienced squad going up against teams that has been together, playing together for some time, albeit in a different jersey, college instead of region. The outcome was almost inevitable in many respects. The first raft of fixtures highlighted that it was a team coming together as a group of players for the first time.
“All credit to the players who, with some excellent guidance off the pitch, came together as a group over the course of the season, culminating in what was in the end a comprehensive win in the final and an outstanding performance. It was definitely a just reward for the efforts and endeavours.”
As the dust settles on the victory, Millward acknowledged the continued importance of the regional development pathway to the long-term sustainability of the Ospreys.
“When you look at the 38 top flight professional rugby teams across the three major leagues in Europe, we will be 34th or 35th in terms of our budget” he said.
“From that perspective, it is clear that we are consistently punching above our weight performance wise. To be at the top of the PRO12 again this season after all the change we have undergone isn’t to be sneezed at, but the real challenge is to stay at the top end, not just for the rest of the current season but beyond that.
“While the commercial side of the business has been challenged to drive increased revenue to allow us to climb from 34th or 35th, the challenge for the rugby arm is to continue developing from within, bringing through home grown talent to wear the Ospreys jersey. It’s a never ending task as the more successful you are at bringing through the players, the more you need coming up underneath them once the international calls come, along with the constant threat of clubs with bigger budgets looking to hoover up talent.
“We can never become complacent. It’s a big well done to this year’s U18s but we need to not only look to this group to continue developing, we also need to ensure that we have players coming through at the age grade below, and that production line has to be consistent, season in, season out.”