Welsh Schools Under 16 squad arrived in Rome today for the 2010 Under 16 /17 Four Nations Tournament, looking to continue where they left off last season.
Simon Davies' side have a 100% record in the past two seasons of this competition, beating England Under 16 and France and Italy Under 17 teams in the Wales-based event last season, and in France in 2008.
They play England in the opening match on Saturday at Rugby Capitolina (4pm), followed by Italy at the Stadio Tre Fontane on Tuesday 6th (2.30pm) and France on Friday 9th at Italy's RBS 6 Nations venue, the Stadio Flamino (2.30pm).
Davies is confident his side is ready for the challenge. "I think our squad is equally as strong as in the past two or three years. Our approach and preparation is similar to the past two seasons and we can't wait to play now. I really think the WRU Regional Under 16 Championship gives us a massive head start because it's a step between club and schools rugby and the international game and it seems to be getting more intense and competitive every year.
"The Welsh Schools Under 16 set-up is the first taste of international rugby for these players and while we all want to keep winning, it is very much about developing players too. Every player will start at least one match but we firmly believe each of the three teams we will select for our games will be of equal standard.
"We start with England on Saturday and it would be great to kick the tournament off with a win. There are no easy games, especially with Italy playing at home this year and both Italy and France field Under 17 sides so we have to counter that age difference.
"We had a number of potential captains in our side but Sion Bennett and Sam Davies certainly put their hands up as good leaders both on and off the field and will lead the side depending on selection for the duration of the festival. They both captained their Regions this season." Vice-captain Davies is the son of Scarlets Director of Rugby Nigel.
WRU National Academy Manager Phil Davies added, "On behalf of the WRU, we wish the Welsh Schools Under 16 side all the very best for the forthcoming tournament. From next season, the age group will come into the National Academy and will be the first team in our international player pathway programme."
Welsh Schools Under 16 squad and starting team v England (Saturday 3 April)
Jordan Williams (Scarlets); Aron Evans (Gogledd), Lloyd Chalke (Blues), Ben Roberts (Ospreys), Ryan Evans (Ospreys); Sam Davies (vice-capt, Ospreys), Will Batcup (Ospreys); Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Evan Yardley (Ospreys), Daniel Goode (Dragons), Chris Lacey (Blues), Rhodri Hughes (Ospreys), Sion Bennett (capt, Scarlets), Daniel Thomas (Scarlets), Jonathan Williams (Scarlets)
Replacements from: Steffan Hughes (Scarlets), Ben Edwards (Dragons), Luke Connolly (Blues), Tomos Owen (Ospreys), Rob Dudley Jones (Ospreys), Gavin Nash (Blues), Thomas Ball (Scarlets), Connor Lloyd (Scarlets), Jake Randall (Scarlets), Jack Dixon (Dragons), Rhys Williams (Ospreys)
WRU Consultant Head of Physical Performance Paul Stridgeon praises the Physical Performance department for their work and dedication as he addresses the media ahead of Wales' Pool A clash against Australia
Twelve young people have been selected to follow a one year WRU Coach Core apprenticeship programme. Coach Core was set up by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry as part of the Olympics legacy in 2012 and the Duke of Cambridge was on hand to meet the apprentices on their first day in the job. The programme has been funded by the Hunter Foundation.
The WRU has launched a campaign to create a long term legacy for Welsh club rugby by highlighting the advantages of volunteering. Rhian Edwards, a volunteer at Seven Sisters, has enjoyed many benefits of her volunteering at a grassroots rugby club including being part of the Rugby World Cup volunteer workforce after being nominated by the WRU - and the WRU is asking for more people to develop their 'Welsh rugby roots'.