The Ospreys will leave no stone unturned in the search for local playing talent says Regional Performance Development Manager Andrew Millward.
With the Ospreys U16’s securing a place in the WRU Regional Age-Grade Championship Final last week, and the region once again leading the way in terms of contribution to the various national age-grade squads, it appears the most effective conveyor belt in Welsh rugby is working well, but Ospreys ‘Original’ Millward, who now oversees the development programme at the region, says there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure that the best local players aren’t overlooked.
Speaking about the challenges faced when it comes to talent identification, he stressed that the door is always open to the Ospreys, regardless of age:
“Not everyone develops at the same pace, physically or mentally” said Millward.
“This means that it’s easy to miss out on someone at age-grade level. Half of the current Ospreys squad didn’t play representative rugby at age-grade level, so that’s a clear indication that it’s the wrong policy to simply pick however many players at age-grade level and stick with them, because you are missing other boys who could come through later.
“If you only started popping your head up at 19, 20, 21, then you are going to miss out on age-grade and you’ll be playing for your local club. There’s a process in place to find out who these kids are and move them onto the next step.
“Justin Tipuric is a prime example. He didn’t make the Ospreys at U16 level; he came into the system at 18. If we only looked at players already within the age-grade set-up then we could have lost him forever. Just because you don’t make the cut at an early age, you shouldn’t give up hope of representing the Ospreys. There are other Tipuric’s out there, we’ve just got to keep looking for them. That’s what the spotters are doing.”
This season has seen a larger than ever team of ‘spotters’ active across Ospreylia, looking to identify hidden gems, and Millward insists their work will reap benefits for the region in the longer term:
“We’ve got a team of 15 spotters going out to watch rugby and reporting back weekly on players catching their eye. They are looking at Dewar Shield, youth rugby, college, Division One and Premiership, covering off as many levels as we can, getting feedback on players that are out there that we may have missed.
“We are casting the net out as wide as we can. It’s why we moved away from the Academy system, which focuses on a narrower player base. We want to look at as many players as possible.
“It’s highly unlikely that anyone of the players picked up this way will be ready to step straight into the Ospreys, but that’s where the development pathway comes into it. There are several entry levels for them, but the Premiership will be the aim for them. Our clubs have picked up boys this year as the season has gone on through this system so clearly they are out there. It’s just a case of identifying them. If they are a bit younger then they’ll come into the C Group to allow us to have a good look at them and decide where they go from there.
“There is a growing database of players that we have or are looking at, that could possibly come through the system late. If someone sees something in them in a game, they’ll go on the database, and if they catch somebody else’s eye, then it’s clear they may have something about them. Talent ID is never an exact science but the more people we have out there looking, the more players they get to see, more often, which should, and I emphasise the should, mean that over time we pick up the talent that would otherwise have gone under the radar.
“In the long run that will be great for the Ospreys, as if we can keep the conveyor belt flowing it will help us become more sustainable on and off the pitch.”