Out of 32 selected for the Wales U20 Six Nations squad, four of them are current Cardiff University students. There were three training camps with 60 players all training competitively to make the final squad.
Head Coach Gareth Williams said that all the coaches were impressed with all the boys and are looking forward to their first game.
‘The coaching groups were mightily impressed by the effort that the boys put in and we’re all now eagerly waiting to get the campaign underway in France.’
In previous years, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton were selected for the U20 squad and have gone on to being household names. More recent players named in the U20 squad like Ryan Conbeer and Dane Blacker have gone on to play 7s for Wales with prospects of regional senior team debuts for others. For all four boys, being named in the squad is a good promise for their future in welsh rugby.
All the boys are signed to either semi-professional or professional sides. Thomas, plays in the back row for Llanelli RFC and Cardiff Medics rugby team, Hoppe is a centre signed to the Newport Dragons but currently plays for Bedwas, with Davies and Lewis in with Cardiff Blues Academy as wing/fullback and hooker.
All the boys commented on how ‘proud’ they are on their selection.
‘It’s such a proud feeling as I’ve worked so hard over the last few years to get selected for this’ said Hoppe.
Davies feels ‘proud and privileged to have been picked’ and he is ‘looking forward to the whole experience.’
The set up for the U20’s squad is very professional. It gives them a positive insight of what it is like to become a professional rugby player. Training has proved to be an accepted challenge to the boys.
‘The set- up is very good with amazing coaching staff and the training so far has been challenging’ said Thomas.
The U20’s are very fortuitous to have a good support system around them.
‘We are lucky to have support teams of physios, nutritionists, a strength and conditioning team and medics’ said Davies.
They boys all seemed to be confident in how they will perform within the Six Nations as they have the advantage of boys who have already played in the U20’s set up. Davies called the group ‘talented and enthusiastic’.
‘We have a strong team with 13 of the boys playing last year so puts us in a good place’ said Hoppe.
Thomas believes that ‘if we perform as well as we can as a team we’ve got a good change in this year’s Six Nations.’
The boys expect France to be their toughest match as, Hoppe informed us that ‘France were the junior world champions last year’. However, Davies tells us that they are all ‘up for the challenge’.
‘We’re all looking forward to the challenge of the whole competition but will take each game at a time’ said Davies
‘All the teams in the six nations are of a very high standard and will each bring their own individual strengths that we will have to deal with. Hopefully we’ll get off to a good start against a physical French team.’
Davies and Hoppe have both been supported by the university to help within their rugby careers. Hoppe was given an interruption of study last years where he was able to live in New Zealand to play rugby. He said this ‘massively helped’ with improving his game. Davies studies Medicine at Cardiff and so his training takes place either very early in the morning or very late at night and he appreciates that ‘Charlotte Arter and Alun wyn have been very supportive in practical terms’ by allowing him to ‘balance his commitments’.
Lewis has played with CURFC in the BUCS Super League saying it is a ‘great experience’ and praising the support he has been given from the university.
‘The university has a great coaching set up and the boys are a hardworking and determined group.’
‘There have been a few occasions where I have had to miss lectures or practical sessions due to rugby commitments and the university has made sure that I have the material to catch up.’
All the boys hope that this opportunity will help advance them to playing for the senior team as Hoppe it is a ‘big platform watched by everyone’, but it also allows them to show what kind of player they are.
Being selected ‘gives us as players an opportunity to express ourselves and show other nations what we (Wales) are about’ said Thomas.
Davies is very much living in the now as he ‘would love to be involved in the senior game at some stage’ but he is currently just keeping his ‘eyes on the Six Nations’.
Last year’s performance resulted in Wales finishing in 5th place, with only wins over Scotland and Ireland. They look to build on this.
Wales first game is against the junior world champions France, at Stade de la Rabine in Vannes on Sunday the 3rd of February before facing Italy the following week. They host England at Stadiwm Zip World Colwyn Bay, their first home game of the tournament. Wales then go on to play Scotland before finishing back in Colwyn Bay against Ireland.