The Welsh Rugby Union today (Wednesday 27 October) revealed its international pathway coaching structure for the forthcoming season.
The appointments see a new, truly integrated approach to coach management and support of the national pathway squads.
In addition to the management groups appointed for each international team, a coaching skills support unit has been set up to connect coaching strategies, philosophies and player development as well as the identification of talent throughout the player pathway.
Dragons assistant coach Darren Edwards takes over as Wales Under 20 head coach having been an assistant coach with Wales Under 18 for the past two seasons. Swansea head coach and former Swansea, Wales and Lions flanker and rugby league international Richard Webster will be assistant Wales Under 20 coach and former Wales centre Mark Taylor, who has been Wales Under 18 team manager for the past two seasons, moves up to take up the same role with the Under 20 group.
The Wales Under 18 management team is made up of full time WRU performance pathway staff. Gruff Rees, who has worked as a WRU skills coach with youngsters in the Ospreys region for the past five years and has gained exposure to the professional game within the Ospreys coaching structure, takes on the role of head coach, with Pontypridd head coach Dale McIntosh continuing as assistant coach (forwards) and Gethin Watts, a WRU Performance Programme Manager, acting as team manager.
The Wales Sevens management team is unchanged with Paul John continuing as head coach and David Jenkins as team manager.
Wales Women head coach Jason Lewis has taken up a new role within the WRU, that of national development manager, and has therefore relinquished his coaching duties with Wales Women. The Wales Women’s coaching structure is currently part of a strategic review and will be announced before the end of the year.
The Welsh Schools Under 16 set-up has re-appointed Simon Davies as its head coach for the sixth successive season, with Euros Evans entering his second year as assistant coach and Roy James continuing as team manager.
Former Ospreys prop Andrew Millward (front five), former Wales back row Rob Appleyard (defence), Wales Under 18 head coach Gruff Rees and Wales Sevens coach Paul John (backs skills) make up the skills coaching unit, with those individuals working with players and coaches in all of the national squads from the cutting edge of Warren Gatland’s national squad right through to the Welsh Schools Under 16 side. These coaches are currently working with the national squad with a view to disseminating ideas and techniques to the other international pathway teams.
WRU Head of Rugby, Performance and Development Joe Lydon said, “We have brought together a talented blend of coaches to develop our best young players in the season ahead. The Under 20 coaching team brings an excellent mix of experience and exposure to the Regional and Premiership game, with Darren Edwards having proved himself at the Dragons and Richard Webster one of the bright lights in the Principality Premiership, winning last season’s Premiership Coach of the Year.
“The Under 18 group has been appointed from WRU employees who work with our elite young players week in, week out and are therefore in the best place to track the development of those players and bring them onto the next stage of their playing careers.
“Sevens is a key part of our development pathway, especially for players making the transition between international age grade and senior, professional rugby and we are looking forward to the IRB Sevens season with Paul John and David Jenkins again adding their wealth of experience to the group.
“Although Welsh Schools Under 16 is not a WRU-run team, we will be working more closely than ever with this age group, with both players and coaches benefiting from exposure to our coaching unit and facilities.
“I would like to personally thank Phil Davies and Simon King who were last season’s Under 20 and Under 18 head coaches for their great work and commitment to the player pathway system, along with the other coaches and team managers who are not involved this season.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland said, “We are constantly looking for the best young talent to step onto the international scene and engendering a closer working relationships with the international pathway coaches and players can only help that transition for players. With the likes of George North and Tom Prydie in our squad at just 18, young players can see that if they work hard and perform well, the opportunity is there for them and every player in this season’s international pathway teams has a chance of getting into the Rugby World Cup 2015 squad so it’s key we all work together towards that common goal.”
New Wales Under 20 head coach Darren Edwards said, “Coming from a Regional perspective, I understand the standards required of young players coming through and having spent two years with the Wales Under 18 group, this is a natural progression for me. I’m excited at the season ahead with the main objective being to create an environment which enables as many players as possible to become future professional rugby players.”
Newly appointed Wales Under 18 head coach Gruff Rees added, “In addition to taking on the responsibility of the head coach role, I’m already working with Rob Howley on kicking, handling and passing skills which I will take back to all the international pathway teams. That level of cohesion and integration with the senior squad is hugely exciting in the development of young players.”
Wales Sevens head coach Paul John, who has just returned from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi said, “Delhi was a great experience and gave us a lot to build on for the forthcoming IRB Sevens Series with players like Tom Prydie, Kristian Phillips and Aaron Shingler particularly impressive in training and match performances and combining well with the more experienced players in the squad.”
WRU International Player Pathway coaching teams
Manager – Gethin Watts
Head Coach – Gruff Rees
Assistant Coach Forwards – Dale McIntosh
Manager – Mark Taylor
Head coach – Darren Edwards Dragons
Assistant Coach – Richard Webster
Manager – David Jenkins
Head Coach – Paul John
Skills coaching support group:
Gruff Rees, Paul John – backs sills; Andrew Millward – front five; Rob Appleyard – defence.
International pathway venues
Cardiff, Swansea and Bridgend will host the Wales Under 20, Wales Under 18 and Wales Women international matches this season, while Cross Keys will host the East v West clashes at those two age groups.
Cardiff Arms Park will be the venue for Wales Under 20 v England and Ireland in the Under 20 Six Nations, The Riverside Hardware Brewery Field will host Wales’ corresponding fixtures in the Women’s Six Nations while St Helens will host Wales Under 18 v France and Scotland.
The East v West encounters form a key part of the teams’ development, preparation and selection processes ahead of their respective international games.
Wales Under 20 games
Thursday 6 January 2011 East v West Cross Keys RFC Kick off TBC
Thursday 3 February 2011 Wales v England Cardiff RFC Kick off TBC
Friday 11March 2011 Wales v Ireland Cardiff RFC Kick off TBC
Sunday 6 February 2011 Wales v England Bridgend RFC KO TBC
Sunday 13 March 2011 Wales v Ireland Bridgend RFC KO TBC
Wales Under 18 games
Thursday 10 February 2011 East v West Cross Keys KO TBC
Sunday 6 March 2011 Wales v France St Helens, Swansea KO TBC
Sunday 10 April 2011 Wales v Scotland St Helens, Swansea KO TBC