The WRU Regional Age Grade Championship returns this month, with the three Ospreys Academy teams all back in action.
The U18s begin the next block of games against Scarlets away (January 29th), followed by three home games: Dragons U18 (February 6th), Blues (February 13th) and RGC (February 17th).
The U16s East are set to take on the Dragons Red at home (January 30th), then Scarlets West away (February 6th), followed by a further two games at home: RGC (February 17th) and Blues North (February 20th).
Finally, the U16s West first game in this block is home to the Blues South (January 30th), then away against Dragons Red (February 6th), home against the Scarlets West (February 13th) and finally away at RGC (February 20th).
The U16s end the second block with a head to head as East and West battle it out on February 27th ahead of the final selection for the combined U16s team.
The first block of fixtures earlier in the season saw all three of the teams deliver a mixture of results. The U18s recorded two wins and two losses, scoring 96 points with 13 tries, but conceding 149. The U16s East had two losses and one win, scoring 56 points through 10 tries, and conceding 71 points. Lastly, the U16s West gained two wins and one loss, notching up 67 points with 11 tries, but also conceding 62 points.
Catching up with Development Pathway Manager, Gareth Walters, he emphasised that “Player development and talent ID are key to the Age Grade process.”
Talking about preparations for the next block of games, Walters said:
“After block one the two U16s teams went through their player development programme, so that meant that there was a continued focus on their skill development and their physical development.
“Now, as of the beginning of January, they’ve just been prepping for their second block, finalising their squad and putting the finishing touches on more of a team-based focus going into this block. This is purely because they’ve completed that player development block which then allows us to create a little bit more of a squad emphasis building up to these games.
“The U18s are at a similar stage. They came in for early January and have now gone up to two sessions a week up until the 30th January. They had a friendly – more of a warm-up than a friendly – against the Gloucester academy last Saturday, which was an opportunity for us as staff and coaches to have a look at the different boys we’ve brought in that we identified during block one and two, who have either played some college or some club rugby.”
Talking about the U18s in particular, Walters said that they are looking for clear improvements from the opening rounds of action. He added:
“The main focus for the U18s is a much improved second block after a slow start, where they conceded over 50 points in two games. In fairness to them, they have taken that to heart as a group and they are conscious that they are representing the region even though it is only at Age Grade level – they don’t see it that way. They want to deliver a much-improved performance during the second block, with three home-games, which they have targeted.
“Within the U18s, the Dragons and the Scarlets were really strong during block one, so that is good bench-marking for us. We definitely need to bridge the gap between those from back in block one.
“The next few weeks are an opportunity for us to deliver on what we’ve been focusing on within training, which are our principles of play that set throughout from U16s and U18s Obviously, we want to see the development of the players from block one to block two, especially through the player development programme. We want to see an increase in ability, skill levels and an understanding of the principles of play that we try and store into the boys – they are the main things we want to see out of our players.
“From our point of view, it’s still development. We are looking to develop players, still aiming to ID players who could potentially come out the other end and represent the region at senior level in the future.
“On the back of this U18s block, players will be setting their sights on going to a Welsh U18s camp. They’re well aware that there’s a fair bit of pressure on them. Some of them are very aspirational and have got individual targets and goals that they’ve set themselves of where they want to be in and around that U18s squad at the end of block two. As players, they see in themselves that this forthcoming block is very important and almost pivotal in relation to their future career.”
For the U16s, Walters said the new few weeks and months are hugely important.
“Their performance during this block is the main focus on what they’ll be picked on” he said.
“At the end of block two, we’ll select an U16s combined, where they’ll come together to make one team to take on the other regions so the main focus of the second block is to ID those players who will progress. Obviously this is a big opportunity, because from the U16s combined we select boys who will progress onto the Junior Academy. There are two big blocks coming up for the U16s boys in particular.
“It’s not all about the results, it’s about the development of the players for us, as well as identifying those players who could potentially progress.
“Within that talent ID, we want to see competitors. It isn’t all about winning and losing at this age, there’s no cup at the end of the block, but it’s difficult to develop players within teams that are losing heavily. We don’t want to be developing boys that are used to putting an Ospreys jersey on and conceding 50 points, and then on the flip side of that becomes players being developed in other regions, who are used to coming into the Ospreys region and winning by 50 points or seeing the Ospreys badge and thinking more of it than ‘we should win this’. Player development at this age is about obtaining that balance.”