U21 International Rugby

After successfully hosting last season’s U21 international against England, Rodney Parade has been chosen as the ‘home’ of U21 rugby for the 2006 6 Nations.

Kath McCarthy | 03/01/2006

Rodney Parade will host three U21 Internationals when Wales will take on Scotland, Italy and France as they look to defend their Grand Slam title.
"We feel it will be a real bonus for our international age grade sides to play at one venue throughout their championships and we hope it will give them a real home advantage," said WRU High Performance Manager Mostyn Richards.
“Wales will be looking for a second Grand Slam on the trot at Under 21 level and, with the majority of the Under 21 players plying their trade in either the Principality Premiership or the Regional sides, there is real quality at that level.”

Coach of the Welsh youngsters is Dragons skills coach Dai Rees and we caught up with him to get his reaction on having a home venue for the U21s while also looking ahead to this seasons 6 Nations campaign.

For the first time all Wales’ U21 matches will be broadcast on television you must be pleased with the exposure and coverage U21 rugby is getting in Wales?
Yes it is very pleasing. Last year we had one game covered on television, the one at Rodney Parade and it raised the profile of U21 rugby. We play a full-blown U21 6 Nations programme and a lot of people forget that so it is good that all the games will be covered. We are going for a double Grand Slam, something that has never happened before and with the coverage the U21 team will get through television and the press it will raise interest and hopefully supporters will come out in force.

How much of a benefit is it to have a home base for the U21s?
It is great, last year we played at two venues, both of which were excellent. The crowd support was fantastic but it is good to have one home base. It means our preparation will be meticulous and having the support of the Region is great as they can organise the little things such as ice baths, team run, medical support etc. which make a big difference. They are things a senior team expects and it should be no different for the youngsters. Neath and Rodney Parade were fantastic last year and catered for our every need. It will make life easier to have one base and work with one set of people and will certainly help with what we are trying to achieve.

Are there any outstanding prospects in the U21s that we can expect to see wearing the full Welsh jersey in a few seasons to come?
There is continuation of a number of players from last years U21 such as Aled Brew, Chris Czekaj who all figured last year as well as Andrew Bishop and Alun Wyn Jones to name just a few. These were players who stood out and who should do so again this year along with a number of new players.

Obviously there will be pressure on the team defending the U21 title, how will you go about coping with that?
In Age Group rugby there is not the same pressure as senior rugby as you are working with a different set of players each year and so you do not get continuity. We will prepare exactly the same as last year and there are nine of last years squad still involved. We will approach games in the same way as last year, play high continuity rugby with a high number of pass completion however, with a new batch of players we have to assess their strengths and weakness and maybe change our approach to games. So it is a new challenge but one I and the rest of the coaching staff is looking forward to.

Where will the main challenges come from?
The traditional power bases of England and France although Ireland will also pose a challenge however, England and France like to play a power game so the challenges will come from them.

First up for the youngsters is England away – a tough ask and how do you thing you will perform?
It is a tough ask especially as we haven’t seen them play, but then again they haven’t seen us play either. We have the added bonus of the match not being far away, it is being played in Worcester and that needs to be publicised as it is only a short journey away and hopefully supporters will travel and show their support. We are expecting a very physical game.

With the introduction of 7s rugby there seems to be a clear development path for youngsters in the game and a chance for them to really reach their full potential.
Yes there is a clear development path and a lot of last years Grand Slam winning side was involved in the 7s tournaments in Dubai and South Africa in December. There needs to be lots of talks about which players will benefit from 7s rugby and which will benefit from U21s elite rugby, players need to be treated on an individual basis but there is a definite clear way forward for the youngsters of Welsh rugby.

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