Following the conclusion of the WRU U16s Championship back in February, Ospreys academy coaches have identified a 33-strong Combined squad and a Development squad for fixtures throughout April.
The number of players selected for the Combined squad from the East and West teams has been almost evenly weighted, with 16 named from the East and 17 selected from the West.
This combined squad aims to push these players to the next level and embarks on a round-robin U16 regional tournament, during which they will take on the Blues, Scotland Reds, the Scarlets and the Dragons throughout April, and will kick-off with a warm-up match against the Cardiff region on Monday.
For those players who were not selected for the U16s Combined, it does not mean that the door is closed. The U16s Development Squad is put in place as a way of ensuring that the momentum continues for the boys who have shown a lot of progression during the opening two blocks of the RAG season, but have not quite made the combined squad. It is a way of certifying that the competition remains within the U16s squad. The development players will partake in a triangular tournament, and some will even compete in an U17s tournament.
While the broader East and West set up allows for an increased opportunity for more players to excel, grow and develop; this combined part of the competition enables development staff and coaches to have the perfect opportunity to further analyse the pool of talent that is progressing through the U16 programme. Identifying talent will continue to be the main focus throughout.
According to Development Pathway Manager, Gareth Walters, the purpose of the Combined Ospreys U16s is “to identify the boys that will move forward to our Junior Academy, which are selected on the back of the East and West.
“We select those that have performed consistently throughout those blocks. Whilst some may think that the decision is based on the end clash between the East and West, that is just implemented as a highlight at the end for them. We judge the boys over block one, the player development block and block two, so we can see how far the boys have come. It’s not just about the performance, but more importantly for us, it’s about their potential moving forward.
“Everyone will have a starting spot, and everyone will play so that we can look at each player. Obviously it would be nice to secure a win because we are starting to develop Ospreys of the future, but behind the scenes for us its more about developing and identifying talent.”
The Ospreys Academy coaches will step in during this next phase for the players in order to support their transition from RAG rugby to the Junior Academy.
Walters stated that the coaches “will deliver a curriculum to the U16s Combined team during this ‘prep block’ that reflects the curriculum delivered in the Junior Academy. The aim for the staff and coaches throughout this next period is to test whether these players are capable to progress onto the Junior Academy.
“It is vital to see whether the players can develop, adapt to and execute the curriculum that is being delivered to them. We’ll challenge them in different ways, and we’ll try to stretch the players a little bit further naturally because we are bringing the ‘better’ players as such together. Therefore, for that we’ll want to challenge them that much further and try and stretch them as much as we can during that block.”
Commenting on the opportunities that are in place for the players besides the transition to the Junior Academy, Walters emphasised that “we’ve also kept the Development Squad. It’s really important for us that the door is never closed here.
“We want to make it clear by communicating to the boys that their rugby career is not over, but that they are not quite ready yet. They’re only 16; for some of them it’s only just beginning, and that means that they could be in the development stage. We want to keep those developers within a good service, with the Age-Grade coaches that we have, delivering very similar things to what the Combined U16s squad are going to be delivering and running.
“With the likes of Tom Snelgrove and the West Coaching team, we hope to keep the players in the development position. This squad will have some fixtures to show what they can do, and to continue playing and developing. These players will also be eligible for the selection for next year’s U18s. This is also true for the U16s Combined, as our aim for those boys who don’t make the Junior Academy, is to fight for their place within the U18s squad.”
It is clear that the pathway works in both ways; players can move up and down based on their performances, as Walters explained.
“If the U18s coaches challenge us and see something different that we haven’t spotted, then we will support the coaches. We want to emphasise that being selected for the Junior Academy doesn’t mean that they are nailed on, we need to maintain competition within the U16s.
“Our challenge to the boys who were in the U16s Combined, but didn’t make the Junior Academy and the boys that were in the Development, but didn’t make the U16s Combined or the Junior Academy, is to go and prove everyone wrong. Go and try to get yourself a starting spot in the U18s squad – make the squad and then fight for a starting spot”.
For those who are unsuccessful, the Development Pathway Manager states that “a lot of them go on to play College Rugby”.
“We still monitor all the college games, we have good relations with the college and they give us good feed back on the players – they are all filmed and coded. We have evidence from last season where boys have ascended from college rugby, all the way through to the Junior Academy.
“It is very rare that we let anyone go completely under the radar, without somebody saying that we need to take notice of the player.”
To conclude, Walters emphasised: Tthe main focus during this block continues to be talent ID and building that talent ID network. There are so many entry points into our pathway, and that’s another main focus – we want to keep as many of these entry points open as possible for players.”
Combined U16s Squad Fixtures:
8Th April – Friendly against the Blues (Gnoll)
15th April – Scotland Reds (Ystrad Mynach)
19th April – Scarlets (St.Helens)
24th April – Dragons (Parc Y Scarlets)
U16s Development Fixtures:
17th April – Dragons (Ystrad Mynach)
22nd April – Blues (St.Helens)