As the Ospreys prepare to face third placed Leinster at the Liberty Stadium in a crucial Magners League tie on Friday evening (KO 7.05pm), skipper Paul James says that the match will provide a real opportunity for some of the talented youngsters in the squad to shine on the big stage.
The 26-year old prop is excited about the young talent at the region, and he believes that a good performance against Leinster could see some players keeping their place in the line-up when the internationals return to camp after the Six Nations later this month.
James said: "The team that will feature at the weekend will include a lot of youngsters, but it is an exciting line-up because of the quality of these players. There's been a lot said already about players like Gareth Owen, who I think showed his class in his first game back after injury against Connacht, and Dan Biggar who has already played for Wales, but there are others like Kristian Phillips who is a great finisher who I think can really impress on Friday night if they get the chance.
"In the front row, there are players like Ryan Bevington and Craig Mitchell, players that Cai Griffiths and me have worked closely with, these are all really good players who have a bright future ahead of them. Friday night's game is a real chance for some of these to really show what they are capable of against a very good team and I'm confident that they'll rise to the test.
"The key now is to get the focus and preparation right for Friday's game. It's going to be tough, but we are up for the challenge. A win would be a fantastic achievement with so many players unavailable, but we believe that we have the strength in depth and the talent available to hit our targets. We had a good result against Connacht in our last match but as players we weren't happy with our team performance so we've been working to put that right over the last couple of weeks.
"It's an important game in relation to the Magners League title, the right result will see us keep the pressure on Munster at the top and put a gap between us and third place. More importantly for the individual players, if we can get the performance right, then some of the boys who have been given an opportunity can find themselves in contention for a place in the team when we play Gloucester in the EDF Energy Cup semi-final. It's a real opportunity for someone to step up and show what they are capable of."
Topping the all-time Ospreys appearance list with 116 going into Friday's game, James is almost at the veteran stage despite still being only in his mid-twenties, and he says that the role of mentor sits comfortably with him:
"It's a bit strange to be talked about as a veteran as I'm still young for a prop really, but I've played plenty of games and have been around since the very first days of the Ospreys so I suppose that I am one of the senior guys in the camp, particularly when so many are away on international duty. I'm just enjoying playing for my home region and honoured to be able to lead the team as captain, but to be honest, there are still a few senior guys around the camp, the likes of Sonny, Filo, Marty, Jamie Nutbrown and now Filipo Levi as well, and in games like this it's up to the older players to lead by example.
"It's not about one person as captain leading the team, we all have to take responsibility. we're all in this together, and if we are going to achieve our aims then we all have to give it our best, starting on Friday."
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.