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Champs to continue promoting young talent

Guinness PRO12 Editor

14 Apr 2011


Reigning Magners League Champions the Ospreys have reiterated their desire to continue developing the best young talent for Welsh rugby.

After announcing that star scrum-half Mike Phillips is free to leave the region despite having three years left to run on his current contract, the Liberty Stadium outfit sent out another strong signal that the future of the Ospreys lies largely in the hands of their outstanding youth development program.

The Ospreys have produced a vast array of players for the Welsh national set up since their inception in 2003 and that tradition looks set to continue as the latest batch of talent rolls off the Llandarcy production line.

"We want to represent our region in the way we're comfortable as and there's no coincidence we produce so many international young kids and we want to continue that,” said Ospreys director of coaching Scott Johnson.

"These are changing times and we've got to confront them.

"We've got to get back to what we've been known as and we've done a lot of great things.

"We've kept the people we really wanted to keep and fought hard for and there will be more announcements shortly.

"It's a balancing act and if that means us reinventing ourselves, we'll do so."

Phillips, who has been heavily linked with a switch to European Champions Toulouse, looks set to follow James Hook, Lee Byrne and Craig Mitchell in moving on, but the Ospreys have already announced the signings of Joe Bearman, George Stowers and Kahn Fotuali'I for next season.

Club captain Alun Wyn Jones and Wales legend Shane Williams have both agreed new deals, yet it is the emergence of a host of impressive youngsters that could provide the biggest boost as the Ospreys look to cement their place among the Magners League elite.

Having guided the Ospreys to Grand Final glory last season, it is easy to forget that Dan Biggar is still only 21 years old. The fly-half has already made 50 Magners League appearances and looks destined to be a key squad member for years to come.

Biggar’s form will soften the departure of Hook, who was behind his younger colleague in the Ospreys’ pecking order for the No10 shirt, while 22-year-old Gareth Owen’s improvement made it easier for the region to allow Byrne to move on.

Emerging flanker Justin Tipuric has arguably been the find of the season, with the 21-year-old making 15 Magners League appearances in his debut campaign. The Wales Youth star’s professional approach and maturity beyond his years has seen him handed the captaincy in Alun Wyn Jones’ absence, another indication of the faith the Ospreys place in their development system.

The decision to start 22-year-old Rhys Webb ahead of Phillips in all six Magners League matches so far in 2011 is further evidence of the Ospreys’ belief that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

Throw in back-three wonder kids Tom Prydie, Kristian Phillips and Eli Walker, as well as young playmaker Matthew Morgan, and it becomes clear that the future of the Ospreys is in safe hands.

And while the departure of high-profile players such as Phillips may hit the headlines, Johnson is convinced that it is better to focus on the new generation of talent coming through the ranks rather than on those who have decided their future lies elsewhere.

"I think it gets to a stage where within an organisation, where anyone who doesn't want to be here will move on,” added Johnson in relation to Phillips’ possible transfer.

"After continued requests from Mike over the last 18 months, we've agreed to let Mike go as soon as he can find another club.

"It's the modern player. Sadly that's the way the sport's going and I'd rather have people here who want to be here.

"What tends to happen is after a while, you're spending so much of your time and energy on so few players and we've got a good young nine (Webb) coming through who needs our attention as well, so it's pretty simple."