After watching the Ospreys U16s West claim the WRU Regional Age Grade title earlier this month, Andrew Millward says the success is a reward for everyone involved in the Ospreys development programme.
The Eyasses clinched the championship with a 26-0 win at Parc y Scarlets, ending the season unbeaten, and Millward, WRU Regional Performance Development Manager for the Ospreys, said 2013/14 has been a successful season all round.
Having overseen a complete restructure of the U16 age-grade programme a year ago, with the region splitting into East and West teams and with development sides operating beneath them, Millward was quick to highlight that the progress shown on and off the field over the last 12 months has been particularly pleasing.
“The whole programme at U16 level has been a great success this year across the four teams, east and west, and the development sides” he insisted.
“We worked hard last year in sitting down and going through a pretty robust selection process, starting with the management groups, and they’ve done a pretty impressive job. It’s not just about the West winning the competition, what is as impressive is seeing how much the boys in the 16s East have improved over the course of the season. They had quite a difficult start but they developed well so it’s a success across all fields really.
“We don’t measure the success of our age-grade programme by the scoreboard. Okay, the West have done well there and won every game, but you have to stand back and look at it as a whole which is what we’ve done.”
As always, this season saw the squads selected from the five U15 Dewar Shield District Squads, only this time players from the Swansea and Swansea Valley Districts represented ‘West’ with the ‘East’ team selected from players in the Aberavon, Bridgend and Neath Districts.
The changes were introduced to help broaden the player base across the region and encourage greater player retention at a time when many players are lost to the game for numerous reasons.
Looking at the increased number of players who have come under the regional banner this season at U16 level, Millward was quick to highlight the extensive work being done below the regional age-grade team to ensure a healthy playing base, stressing that was far more important that the title win.
“It’s nice to win, obviously, we’re all competitive and we want to win” said Millward,
“But, as a measurement of the success of a development programme it’s only a small factor. If you look at it, over the last year we’ve gone from one team at U16 level, where you would try and squeeze 40, 45 boys in over the course of the season, which meant the ratio of games wasn’t very high, to having a structure in place that has allowed over 100 players to participate.
“No doubt we’ve got some selections wrong and not everybody involved as had as much game-time as they would have liked. That’s always the case at age-grade. But in terms of a development programme, we’ve successfully extended it to a much wider level.
“It’s important to remember the work that we’ve done in the region for the wider game at age-grade level as well, not just within the elite end of the development pathway. The Ospreys and the WRU Community team have worked in collaboration throughout the year to support club rugby and school rugby as fully as we could.
“The season structure plays a part, and we opened up the beginning of the season to the Ospreys Cup, school and club competitions, we ran a summer programme for clubs which allowed coaches to go out and look at them. We aren’t doing anything in isolation, it’s about recognising the work that clubs and schools are doing, recognising that like them, we are part of that development cycle, and supporting them in whatever way is possible.
“A broader playing base benefits the whole rugby community in the region, and thanks to the excellent relationship we have built with the District, Schools and College set-ups, our extended development programme offers a wide range of opportunities for all age-grade players.”
With more players than ever stepping up to represent the Ospreys at senior level, Millward says that the region’s commitment to development is essential to its future sustainability, regardless of any off-the-field issues:
“Regardless of the financial situation, our ongoing commitment to development has always been at the heart of what the Ospreys do. The financial situation maybe just makes people aware that there are players coming through simply because there are more spaces in the senior squad to fill.
“Irrespective of if the Welsh game was financially sound at the top end, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t continue striving to make the development programme we’ve got even better. More money doesn’t mean you deliver less of a development programme, it means you can invest more into it to make the development programme stronger. Sport is very cyclical by its nature, and if you don’t keep the supply chain going there will be long term issues. We want to avoid that boom and bust, to ensure a long-term sustainable future.”