The Wales Under 18 training camp gets underway with an extended squad being put through their paces by senior squad coaching staff at the National Centre of Excellence.
The Under 18's began a two-day training camp today involving testing and assessment of performance and character ahead of a final squad announcement in the New Year.
The players will be aware that whilst the surroundings are similar to previous years the preparation will be very different to other U18 national programmes.
As part of a new approach by the WRU, all national programmes, both senior and age grade, will be joined up and co-ordinated through consultation with all members of the national coaching team, including Wales head coach Warren Gatland.
The changes have come about after the much publicised U20 review process where key findings were made, most notably, that understanding culture is vital.
Head of rugby Joe Lydon is confident in the new approach; "The purpose of the two days is to test both the players' performance with a variety of fitness tests but also a players' character, which we have recognised is a vital element to achieving success on a national scale. The message to the squad is that they will be working within a high performance environment.
"After the U20 review process, it was apparent that there were unplanned consequences. A cause and effect was established and we're now addressing this with a much more professional and joined up approach. It is important that we emulate that of the senior squad, so these youngsters know what is expected of them if they are to succeed through the age grades to the senior squad. Culture is a huge focus for us and creating a professional and hardworking environment is vital.
"In previous years players have been selected in isolation, it is important that we join up thought processes and select on performance and character rather than just on performance. We are aiming to create a culture similar to what we witnessed by the senior squad out in New Zealand - a professional approach to their preparation and every aspect of their campaign."
An extended squad of 40 players has been picked - selected by the five regional managers after analysis of a campaign report on each individual player.
The squad will build towards an East v West competition in January, followed by a training camp in Leicester in February. A squad of 26 players will then be chosen to take part in an international campaign against Scotland and a FIRA competition played over 11 days in April.
All aspects of the two-day camp will replicate that of the senior national squad preparation even down to nutrition, with all meals and snacks advised by Wales' nutritionist Jon Williams.
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.
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