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The tip of a Scarlet iceberg

Guinness PRO12 Editor

25 Feb 2011

George North starred for the Scarlets on his competitive comeback but there are plenty of other youngsters making a name for themselves in Llanelli.

North made a try-scoring return to action as the Scarlets moved back into the Play-Off places with an 11-3 win over Edinburgh in West Wales.

The 18-year-old wing hadn’t featured for his region since early October due to two separate injury issues, the latter of which required shoulder surgery.

Despite featuring just six times in the Magners League in this his debut season, North has already become a household name across Britain and Ireland.

A League strike rate of just under a try a game has been coupled with an incredible rise to prominence on the international stage, beginning with a brace of tries on his debut against the World Champion Springboks less than four months ago.

But while North is rightly receiving plenty of headlines, there are numerous other promising young players flying just under the radar at the moment.

And just because they haven’t enjoyed the same lightening fast climb towards stardom as North, it doesn’t mean they’re having any less of an impact at the Parc-y-Scarlets.

"George is the tip of the iceberg in many ways," said Scarlets head coach Nigel Davies.

"He had a great debut for Wales but George is still in his development phase and he’s still got a lot to learn.

"There are other guys here who are equally as exciting as George and we’re bringing them through the system. Guys like Aled Davies, Gareth Davies and Dan Newton etc.

"George is quite unique for an 18-year-old in terms of his physicality but there are some other very exciting players coming through. What I wouldn’t want to do is put any pressure on individuals at this stage because when you’re 16 or 17 lots of things can change.

"George is the tip of the iceberg and below that there’s a lot more talent coming through."

A Wales U18 regular and former Rugby World Schools Player of the Month, Aled Davies is yet to feature for the first team but fellow scrum-half Gareth started against Edinburgh, as did fly-half Newton.

Newton has already made seven Magners League appearances this year, despite the presence of international fly-halves Stephen Jones and Rhys Priestland, while the Davies duo are both being tipped for big things.

All three have clearly benefited from North’s remarkable progression, with the ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ mantra creating a positive impact.

"That’s the exciting thing – these guys are really stepping up to the mark. They’re seeing what George has done and they know from working week in, week out with George what his abilities are," added Davies.

"They know where they can judge themselves against him and they think ‘hang on, if George can do it, I can do it’."


Gareth Davies is on the rise at the Scarlets

While Davies picked out his namesakes Aled and Gareth alongside Newton when illustrating his point, he is hardly short of youngsters to highlight when suggesting that the future of the region should be a bright one.

Centre Scott Williams is another livewire back to have made an impression this term, having matched Newton’s tally of seven Magners League matches at the age of just 20.

Then there’s a slightly older crop of up and coming stars who can now look back on their teenage years but are still only in the infancy of their twenties.

Prop Simon Gardiner has featured seven times in his debut season, answering a front-row crisis and leaving no one in any doubt as to his outstanding potential. Gardiner has just turned 21, while a trio of promising players have recently passed their 22nd birthdays and are now looking ahead to further progress.

Daniel Evans started at full back against Edinburgh, making what was his ninth Magners League appearance this term and his 33rd in total since his debut as a 19-year-old; Ben Morgan has already hit double figures in his first senior year as a Scarlet and fellow back row Josh Turnbull is fresh from making his Wales debut against Scotland earlier this month.


Ben Morgan is fast becoming a Scarlets regular

It’s an impressive list and that’s without a handful of other young players whose age becomes easily forgotten due to their already-high standing in the domestic game and their growing number of caps on the international scene.

Wales scrum-half Tavis Knoyle is hardly old hat at just 20 years of age but he’s now so regularly associated with Warren Gatland’s Wales selections that his age gets overlooked. It’s a similar scenario with Jonathan Davies, now considered a central cog in the Scarlets wheel and first-choice for his country at just 22. Then there’s Priestland, the heir to Stephen Jones’ thrown and one of the League’s most-consistent performers this season and he’s not long said goodbye to his 23rd year.

"We’re pretty pleased with the way our development structure is and the way we identify talent," continued a clearly proud Davies.

"I’ve spoken for a long time about trying to create strength in depth in every position. Genuinely, we can almost put anybody on the field and they perform.

"It’s always been the case for a long time that we’ve needed to build the strength in the squad. We’ve been able to do that over the last 18 months or so – not always out of choice but we’ve been able to do it.

"As a result, we’ve got a group of players who can more than ably stand in when some of our more recognised stars aren’t available. That’s what you have to have to be successful in a league campaign.

"The most important thing is that we can create an environment here that they want to be part of. We do think that we do things slightly differently and we do think that we look after the players well and we do develop them particularly well. These players are testimony to that.

"What we’ve done successfully as well is not only identify young talent in our structure but also spot potential talent out there of maybe an older generation. People like Damien Welch and Andy Fenby, people who’ve come into this environment, developed themselves and really pushed themselves forwards as top players. Tavis Knoyle is probably another one.

"Nine times out of 10, when you’ve got a gut feel about a player, you know they’re only going to get better in this environment."