FOLLOWING Wales under 16s beating their English counterparts for the first time ever, Wales Rugby League CEO Chris Thair says the young talent has always been in Wales but recent results are finally making the elite clubs take notice.
Nine of the 17 players in the Wales side were under 15, which makes their historic 18-10 victory over England in Cardiff all the more remarkable, especially as they were up against a side that contained 14 players who are in Super League club’s academies.
Thair said: “The game was a marvellous advert for the sport and the talent on show from both sides was immense, however the result is remarkable given the difference in investment levels, systems and pathways between the two nations.
“Wales is small in size, however large in heart and even bigger when it comes to sporting talent. The sports authorities and elite clubs must now take note that Wales remains an outstanding player pool for the sport of rugby league.
“Investment is now the key to making this succeed. Super League clubs must invest by taking chances on young Welsh players and the sporting authorities must invest in Wales to ensure this young talent continues to come through the system.
“Young players in Wales are now enjoying playing more Rugby League than ever before, however our school and club programmes only begin at under 12s, where as in England it is under 7s.
“The seasons are much longer in England and by the time players reach 16 years of age they are likely to have a lot more training sessions and games under their belt. They would have also enjoyed the luxury of being involved with elite player scholarship systems with Super League clubs for a couple of years.
“The differences in experience levels for the under 16 international this weekend were immense and that alone makes the win an outstanding achievement. England had players of honed talent whereas Wales raw talent in terms of playing rugby league.
“Great talent but raw nonetheless and this makes it so exciting for all the scouts. A player of honed talent will improve at marginal levels however clubs are more likely to see significant jumps in performance levels after taking someone of raw talent.”
Thair is looking forward to the Rugby League World Cup in Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, which starts next month, and he knows that Wales will once again have a squad whereby over half of the players will have been developed through the Wales Rugby League system before first team.
“Welsh talent is shining at the moment,” he said.
“We began the season with Ben Flower and Rhys Evans helping their clubs beat their NRL counterparts in the World Club Challenge games, showing that we have world class players. Young Welshman Regan Grace then made one of the most impressive Super League debuts ever for his club St Helens. These three players along with many other professionals started their Rugby League in Wales and we urge clubs to continue to take the chance on recruiting Welsh talent, for the good of the club and the international game.
“We have over 60 Welshmen playing throughout the three professional leagues of the sport, however quality is still in abundance at the beginning of the pathway. Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf from Cardiff were once again crowned UK Champion Schools winners last month after beating Mirfield School in the Year 9 Final. This Glantaf school team has only been beaten once in three years of playing the sport.
“We have a system in Wales to bring through players from 16 to 21 years old and this is developing all the time however this is poor in comparison to a Super League club. St Helens had to take Regan Grace from our system at 17 and gave him a Super League debut at 20 years of age. Players who remain in Wales will come through and play for North Wales Crusaders or South Wales Ironmen in League 1 and whilst they are competitive the teams are not challenging for Super League.
“Yes we want players to remain in the system in Wales however at the same time we also want elite clubs to take on as many Welsh players as possible. The talent is here in Wales however it has to be nourished. Everyone involved in Wales Rugby League should be extremely proud of what is taking place in Wales and we continue to plan for a brighter future.”
The next chances to watch Wales’ up and coming players in action is this Saturday (Sept 9) when South Wales Ironmen and North Wales Crusaders clash at both under 18 and open age levels. The first game kicks off at midday. For more information, go to https://twitter.com/ironmenrl.
Wales under 18s then host England Lions at Cardiff Metropolitan University on Saturday, September 16 (kick-off 2pm).
Street through in Central Wales Cup
BOW Street made it through to the third round of the Central Wales Cup on Saturday (Jan 5) as they beat Llansantffraid 3-2 after extra time.
The game was played at Aberystwyth Town’s Park Avenue and Street were keen to pick up victory to start 2019 in style.
Ben Jones scored for the Magpies to make it 1-1 after 90 minutes before the game came to life in extra time.
Llansantffraid took the lead but Dylan James scored to level the scores and he then provided the assist for Jones to score his second to make it 3-2 and send the Street through.
Street will be keen to carry on their good cup form on Saturday (Jan 12) as they travel to Cefn Albion for a fifth round tie in the FAW Trophy.
Elsewhere, Aberaeron bowed out as they were beaten 4-1 at home by Llanilar.
Ceredigion League Division 1 side Ffostrasol were also knocked out as they lost 3-0 away at Hay St Marys.
Llandysul suffered a 5-0 defeat to Kerry while Penrhyncoch conceded their tie with Llanidloes, having played a league game the day before.
Street edged out by Llani
BOW Street suffered a narrow defeat on Saturday (Dec 29), as they were beaten 1-0 by Mid Wales League Division 1 leaders Llanidloes Town.
Having been held to a 1-1 draw with Aberaeron on Boxing Day, Street welcomed the leaders looking to cause an upset.
Credit must go to the Cae Piod groundsmen who ensured the overnight downpour didn’t affect the game.
After an even start, Llani were given a penalty with just over half an hour gone but Alex Pennock made an excellent save to keep the scores level.
However, just moments later the visitors did take the lead as they grabbed the only goal of the game with ten first half minutes still to play.
Llion Jenkins’ pile driver cracked the cross bar from 25 yards but the ball fell to George Clarke who tapped in the rebound to make it 0-1.
In the second half, Ryan Biggs saw red for a foul but both sides agreed that the punishment was a little harsh.
Bow Street threw everything at their opponents as they looked for the equaliser in the last half an hour but were unable to find a way through.
Llani defended well to keep their clean sheet intact and despite seven minutes of added on time they held on for the win.
Street currently sit second from bottom in the table but will take a break from league action on Saturday (Jan 5), as they welcome Llansantffraid in the second round of the Central Wales Challenge Cup.
Aber’s top six hopes dented
ABERYSTWYTH Town’s hopes of securing a top six finish in the JD Welsh Premier League took a blow over the festive period following two defeats to Newtown.
The first, on Boxing Day, saw them slip to a 2-0 defeat at Park Avenue after goals from Steve Leslie and Nick Rushton.
Then, on Sunday (Dec 30), they were beaten 2-1 at Latham Park after a first half goal from Neil Mitchell and another from Rushton in the second half.
Manager Nev Powell made three changes to the side defeated by the Robins on Boxing Day, with Alan Goodall, Geoff Kellaway and Rio Ahmadi entering the starting line-up.
In similar fashion to the Boxing Day clash, it was Newtown who started the game faster, and they took the lead with their first meaningful attack of the game as Callum Roberts crossed for Neil Mitchell to head home within the opening 90 seconds to make it 1-0.
Despite the early setback, Aber fought their way back into the game and tested home keeper Dave Jones with long range efforts from Wes Baynes and Rio Ahmadi.
On 13 minutes, the Seasiders carved out their best opening yet as Geoff Kellaway forced jones into a fine save after breaking free on the left side of the penalty area. But as the first half wore on, the game became a closely contested affair with neither side able to carve out any clear opportunities and the hosts would enter the break with the advantage.
The Black and Greens started the second half in much brighter fashion, and very nearly equalised on 50 minutes when Paulo Mendes saw his header smartly saved by Jones in goal.
Then, on 56 minutes the visitors went closer still, as Rio Ahmadi cut inside and fired a low effort from outside the area against the base of the post. It seemed a matter of time before Aber were back on level terms, but on 60 minutes came the sucker punch that all but sealed three points for the Robins.
Sam Phillips broke free on the edge of the area before playing in Nick Rushton, who rifled a shot into the bottom corner of the net to make it 2-0 very much against the run of play.
Soon after, they almost well and truly buried the Seasiders as Luke Boundford went through one-on-one with Terry McCormick, but the Aber keeper stood strong and produced an excellent save to smother the shot.
Substitutes Ash Ruane and Joe Phillips were introduced in place of Kellaway and Ryan Edwards, and soon after Aber went close once more as Ryan Wollacott met Mathew Jones’ corner, only to see his header cleared off the line.
As stoppage time approached, Aber did find a way back into the game as Declan Walker flicked the ball through for Ahmadi, who produced a neat chip into the corner of the net to make it 1-2 with five minutes of additional time remaining.
In the very last minute of stoppage time, Paulo Mendes appeared to be fouled in the penalty area, only for his appeals to be waved away by referee Cheryl Foster, and the Seasiders would leave Latham Park empty handed.
It was an improved performance from the Seasiders’ previous defeats, but manager Nev Powell will be disappointed his side were unable to convert the chances they carved out at Latham Park on Sunday afternoon.
Town now face a real uphill battle to finish in the league’s top six as they welcome Conah’s Quay Nomads to Park Avenue on Friday evening (Jan 4) in the JD Welsh Premier League.
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