Ex-international referees Rob Yeman and Nigel Whitehouse with the intake of academy referees.
The Welsh Rugby Union are developing a new breed of super fast and fit rugby referees.
A year has passed since the WRU launched its National Junior Academy in a bid to fast track referees to reach their full potential. Now they are seeing the results.
The first intake of referees, between 18 and 32 years-old, marked the occasion at the Vale Resort by undertaking a series of vigorous and physically demanding fitness tests.
The hard work put in over the last 12 months by the 18 members was evident in their test results. Many recorded personal best scores and times on the 'bleep test' and the '40 meter sprint test'. Academy member Morgan Whitehead says: "It's a great environment to be involved with. There's a healthy sense of competition in the group and it puts pressure on you to perform.
"With the support of the academy I've been able to improve my speed from 5.7 seconds to 5.4 seconds and my bleep test from level 10.8 to level 13. All within the standards set and required by the International Rugby Board (IRB) of international referees. "
The privileged group have received the world's best practice advice and support that aims to accelerate their performance and fulfil their potential. They have had Wayne Proctor, ex-Wales international winger and now National Academy WRU fitness coach, developing the physical aspect required and providing training programmes and advice.
Dr Adam Carey, Academy Consultant Nutritionist, ensures that the right values and habits towards nutrition are developed leading to improved health and physical development. Dr Carey has an impressive track record in sports nutrition - which includes work with the British Olympic Association, Leicester City Football Club and with the England Rugby Union.
Some of the world's most experienced referees have also been passing on their practical experience and giving regular advice. Current international referee Nigel Owens has been appointed as National Academy Referee Coach, with ex-international referees Rob Yemen, Nigel Whitehouse, David Davies, Derek Bevan (MBE) and Gareth Simmonds involved with developing the group.
"It's a great time to be a Welsh referee. The opportunity that we have been given is fantastic. Having so many experienced referees coming to see us officiate and then passing on their advice is invaluable," says Morgan.
This group of talented referees are being prepared for greater things and have already gained experience of the game at the highest level. Morgan says: "I was fortunate to be selected as a fifth official when Newport Gwent Dragons played the Scarlets in the Mangers League. I was allowed to shadow the match referee, James Jones, in his pre-match preparation, his talk with the teams and the coin toss. It's fantastic to see how a professional referee prepares for a match and I hope to use it to my benefit."
The opportunity given to these referees is matched by their own personal ambition. "I hope one day, as long as I keep training hard, to be a full time referee and have the opportunity to officiate international matches," says Morgan.
Nigel Owens made it clear that this is a realistic target for anybody. He says: "If an individual had the aptitude and right application, they could have become an international referee in six or seven years. Today - it could be in five. The academy allows referees to be seen on a regular basis. If they perform well, they can be promoted within a season. In the past, referees would only be promoted following an advisors meeting at the end of a season.
"I am confident that there will be two Welsh referees in the 2015 World Cup Finals. Also, I fully expect the academy to produce three or even four international referees in the next five years."
Nigel is one of 19 officials on the IRB International Referee panel. He went on to say: "It's great that the WRU are at the forefront of the international game. England have followed our example with Chris White (an international referee) setting up their own academy.
"Refereeing has given me a rewarding and varied career, taken me all over the world and allowed me to be part of some great rugby matches and great occasions.
"I'm very much looking forward to the challenge of helping the next generation of referees develop and am extremely honoured to have been given the opportunity."
With over 2,000 referees of varying ages registered with the WRU and with interest increasing, the WRU seems to be in a healthy situation.
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