At the time of their much-heralded launch in September 2005, the WRU held up Regional Academies as a ground breaking new system that would allow young Welsh talent the chance to develop their skills ensuring the long term success of rugby in Wales.
At the time of their much-heralded launch in September 2005, the WRU held up Regional Academies as a ground breaking new system that would allow young Welsh talent the chance to develop their skills in a way that no player before them has ever enjoyed, in turn ensuring the long term success of rugby in Wales, both regionally and nationally.
With rugby fans across Wales eager for an indication that the new structure is making a difference, a clear sign of the success of the new system in producing the new breed of professionals duly arrived during the recent autumn international series, when James Hook and Alun Wyn Jones, both recent graduates of the Ospreys Academy, made a huge impact in the red jersey.
According to Kevin Hopkins, Ospreys Director of Rugby, the duo's meteoric rise is testament to not only their talent and dedication, but also, to the support services that are now in place thanks to the investment that has been made by both the WRU and the region. He commented:
"The joint venture between the WRU and the Ospreys has already produced great returns, with players such as James and Alun not only making a significant impact on the domestic stage, but already making their mark on the national team. In addition to these two, we have already identified the next generation of players who we believe have the ability to make the grade at both regional and international level.
The type of long term forward planning that the Academy system allows us to undertake, is key to ensuring that we reach our goal, which is to compete with, and beat, the best in Europe, not only today but in the future."
The Ospreys Academy programme provides young talent with individually tailored training programmes to suit their specific needs, and as well as rugby skills and fitness, key areas that are addressed include nutrition, personal development and education, with the ultimate aim of developing the full potential of every individual. The development process of the likes of Jones and Hook, as well as the next generation of talent, is undoubtedly aided by the world class facilities now available to the Ospreys at their Llandarcy training base and, of course, at the Liberty Stadium.
The Ospreys region represents some of Wales's traditional rugby hotspots, clubs and towns that have a long and proud history of nurturing rugby talent, a legacy that the Ospreys say they aim to continue. Ospreys Academy Manager Gethin Watts said:
"We have a system in place through the Academy set-up to identify and nurture the young talent that is essential to allow the Ospreys to thrive, both in the short and long-term. Not only do we have some great young players in our ranks, we are fortunate enough to have first class staff working with the players. When you consider that we have Garin Jenkins (former Swansea and Wales hooker) and Gruff Rees (Neath Assistant Coach) as skills coaches, working alongside conditioning coaches Keith Holifield and Alex Lawson, and Performance Manager David Arthur, we have both the experience and knowledge that will give these young players the best opportunity to make the most of their talents.
We genuinely believe that the Academy is the production line that will deliver long term success for both the Ospreys and Wales, through the development of our own, local talent. There is a sense that the Ospreys culture really is beginning to take hold across the region, and that these new players coming through are taking their responsibility as the first generation of young Ospreys very seriously."
The Academy system also allows the region to tap into specialist help from the WRU coaching team. For example, former Wales outside-half and record points scorer Neil Jenkins has worked with Hook since his Academy days, and he is already helping to bring through the next generation of kickers.
Kevin Hopkins added:
"Within the region, the relationship between the community game, semi professional, Academy and the 1st XV is strong. The development pathway for young talent is clear and it works in harmony with all associated partners at each level of the game, ensuring that we are able to develop some of the finest young talent in Welsh rugby.
Our Under-18's have recently retained their title and the Under-20's are preparing for their own final, evidence of the hard work being done to nurture local talent. In such a short space of time since the Academy was launched in 2005, our development strategy has already produced two senior internationals, and the success of our age group sides shows that we ensuring that we build on this. James Hook and Alun Wyn Jones provide a positive example to everyone involved in the Academy of what can be achieve. With two young stars shining brightly, there can be no doubt that many more are sure to follow."