Never mind the bonus point picked up during the win over Aironi at the Liberty Stadium last weekend, the real highlight of the 38-6 win was the sight of two more young Ospreys gaining their first experience of Magners League rugby.
21-year old back-rower Justin Tipuric was an early replacement for the injured Ben Lewis in the first half, coming on to make his Magners League debut after two impressive outings in the LV= Cup last season, including a try on his first start against Bath.
He was joined on the field late on by 18-year old wing Eli Walker, the Gorseinon teenager replacing try-scorer Richard Fussell for his debut Ospreys appearance, just hours after his late call-up to take the place of namesake Nikki on the bench.
The duo are the latest products of the region’s Elite Youth Development programme, which has seen local talent such as Dan Biggar, Tom Prydie and Ryan Bevington coming through the ranks over the last eighteen months, providing a clear sign that the Ospreys long-term investment in the future of the region is paying dividends.
Speaking after making his senior debut, Walker said:
“It was awesome. All through pre-season and the first few weeks I’ve set an aim of playing in the LV so it’s a real bonus to get into the team for a Magners League game. I made sure I enjoyed it as much as I could.
“I started training with the senior boys for the first time in pre-season and it’s given me a real lift being around international players day-to-day but I didn’t expect to step up and play alongside them so soon. Training regularly with them meant that the pace wasn’t too much for me, I’m getting the hang of it now.
“It’s definitely more than I could have hoped for, but looking back at last season and seeing the likes of Tom Prydie shooting through the ranks you realise that anything is possible really. I’ve set my standards high and I just hope that I can live up to them now.”
Having been tipped as one for the future, Walker’s debut came at short notice, but he vowed to keep working hard to ensure it isn’t a one-off:
“Three weeks into pre-season the coaches told me that if anyone picked up an injury I could get a chance and that’s what happened really with Nikki Walker getting tonsillitis. I had a late call into the squad, which is a real bonus for me.
“Looking back at it, I can’t believe that I’ve actually made my debut. But it’s going to be the first of many hopefully. Obviously there’s things I need to work on, but having experienced senior rugby with the Ospreys, I know what the reward is now if I can reach the standards the coaches want”
Tipuric came to the attention of the wider rugby public last year when he captained the Wales U20 squad at the 2009 IRB Junior World Championship in Japan during the summer, finishing as the competition’s second top try scorer with six in five games. He followed that up with an eye-catching performance in the defeat to Bath at the Recreation Ground in November, which he rounded off with a late try.
Having now stepped up to experience his first taste of Magners rugby, he says that he’s hungry for more:
“It’s brilliant that I’ve been able to represent the Ospreys in the Magners League to be honest. They are my local team so to play for them at a higher level is great.
“The boys played well out there and really helped me. It wasn’t an easy game for me to come into. After Aironi had a bit of a beating at the Scarlets the week before we knew that they would keep it tight and try to stop us playing which is what they did, but to get a bonus point was a good result.
“To be able to come on and play alongside an All Black and a Welsh international in the back row was great. The boys have been full of encouragement for me, if I want help they will always give me a helping hand.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to push on the next few weeks, get more game time and experience. The coaches have just told me well done, and that they have confidence in me. They just want me to enjoy my rugby if I’m playing in the Premiership, the LV or the Magners. If I keep doing that, hopefully I’ll be able to do myself and the Ospreys justice.”
Ospreys Elite Performance Director, Andrew Hore, said that as the latest graduates from the Eyasses show, the Ospreys remain totally committed to developing local talent:
“We are delighted to see Justin and Eli stepping up to the Magners League to represent their home region. We’ve invested heavily in a system and structure that will allow us to identify up and coming talent and then give them the best possible opportunities to achieve their potential.
“These two are the latest in a long line of players to come through the Ospreys ranks, and they will not be the last. They can act as role models to the boys coming through just behind them, if they can make the step up so can the others. One thing is for sure, our coaches will not hesitate to give them a chance if they have earned it.
“This commitment to developing local, young talent is essential and is central to our long term aims of creating a sustainable, successful rugby organisation.”