John Williams has take over the position as Academy Manager from Gareth Nicholas. John is well known throughout Gwent as he has held the position of WRU District Director for the last three years.
In an interview John explains how he has settled into his new role, his vision for the Academy and he explains how Gwent is one of the best Regions for developing players.
Congratulations on your appointment, what does your role as Academy Manager involve?
I think it is analysing the players needs, defining a start point, managing the stake holders who affect them directly and indirectly and avoiding any potential conflict that could arise. My role is to get a player to reach their potential in their rugby, their career and lifestyle. More importantly it is to make them a better all-round person.
What will be some of your first duties?
To assess where we are at the moment and to project the next three months and to get in front of the game. Also to ensure that all service providers e.g. skills, rugby, fitness, psychology etc are servicing the player’s needs and not vice versa.
Why is an Academy to the Region so important?
The Academy is the production line that ensures we are producing our own product from within. We aim to integrate them into the Regional culture and give them a sense of belonging. The chequebook is a short-term fix, by developing our own strategy and players we are looking at the long-term sustainable product.
There is no doubt that The Dragons take the development of younger players seriously. The Academy have trained full time with the senior squad and in your role as Academy Manager this must be very pleasing?
Yes, ultimately The Dragons are our customer and through better integration to identify the customers needs it will ensure that the product we are producing satisfies those needs. That is why the input of the regional coaches into these youngsters’ rugby and conditioning is paramount and so important.
What are your hopes for the Academy?
That we become self sustainable in terms of all future Dragons players coming through the Academy system so we know who the next professional player is to replace a current professional player five years prior to that player retiring. It is about having a continued succession-playing plan for the Region.
Which players should supporters keep an eye out for in seasons to come?
There are a number of really talented youngsters who will be knocking on the professional door in the near future. Chris Evans a No.8 is already playing Premiership rugby at only 18 years of age, Richard Wilkes is playing at that level and he is 19 while 18 year old Andrew Brown played his first game for the Premiership last weekend. It is pleasing to see the Premier clubs seeing the value of the Academy and recognise that the players have an abundance of energy, are exciting to watch, are well conditioned, have good rugby knowledge and are tactically astute.
You mentioned the Premier Division, how important is that to the development of the Academy players?
It is great that the coaches realise how important the Academy is. It is pleasing they are 100% behind the Academy and see the value with it. The five clubs in Gwent now see themselves as the breeding ground for The Dragons and the Academy. It is good that the youngsters carry out their apprenticeship in this environment and from a rugby perspective the Region is coming together.
The Dragons have one of the best Academies in Wales, the players have top fitness testing results, they train with the senior squad so are fully integrated into the environment. Is one of the challenges you face, how to keep the Academy at the top and how do you aim to do this?
I think that by becoming a world-class performer with the processes we use and if we look at always measuring everything and gathering data and squeezing this it will ensure we are a blue chip company with the Academy. I think the process will evolve as demands keep changing. If we are to only stay in touch and not get ahead then we will always be playing catch up, we have to project and become more dynamic in our approach. That’s why squeezing our result or defining what the expert professional players are doing and value it will ensure that what we are doing meets the customer’s demands.