Jonathan Davies was given a hero's welcome at Whitland School.
Wales hero Jonathan Davies took time out from Test match preparations - ahead of the weekend's Dove Men Series clash with South Africa - to join a unique literacy lesson at his former school, Dyffryn Taf in Whitland, Carmarthenshire this afternoon.
British and Irish Lions and Scarlets centre Davies was joined by his international and Regional team-mate Ken Owens, after both were named in the 23 to face the Springboks at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, back in the classroom, to help introduce the Welsh Rugby Union's new mascot Scorch to pupils.
The WRU has published a 22 page graphic novel, which introduces young rugby fans to its new mascot, an animated 'superhero dragon', and offered free copies, as well as tablet and i-pad download versions, to every school (both primary and secondary) in Wales.
The West Wales school, which has not only produced Davies but also fellow current international star Mike Phillips, was one of the first to order copies of the comic book, which gave the WRU the idea to join forces and surprise pupils at lesson time.
Davies, one of Whitland's favourite sons, and the Carmarthen born Owens, were given a hero's welcome by pupils and staff alike as they joined in with readings and helped sing the national anthem, which features at the end of the story to 'Unleash the Dragon' at the Millennium Stadium.
"It's been an interesting distraction from the intensity of preparations for the South Africa game at the weekend, to have come along and met all the children and staff in Whitland today and we have had a great time reading about Scorch in the lesson," said Davies, who will start at outside centre against the Sprinboks.
"I have extremely fond memories of my time here and try to get back to say hello when I can. They always make a fuss of me and it's great to be able to give something back in terms of getting involved in a lesson and helping out the extemely dedicated teachers at the school."
The comic book is littered with historical references and contains a unique take on Arthurian mythology - laying claim to fictional wizard Merlin's Welsh roots in Carmarthen and citing the 'sword in the stone' legend.
"Being from 'Merlin country' myself, I really enjoyed Scorch's back story and more importantly all the children seemed to enjoy their day as well," said Owens, who will win his 16th cap if needed from the bench this weekend.
"We know the nation will be behind us on Saturday, we are all looking forward to it and if the crowd sing the national anthem as loudly as the pupils in the lesson today it will be nothing less than inspirational."
The dramatization of Scorch's back story, which also involves a group of young adventurers travelling back in time to 1856 to visit Evan and James James, the composers of the Welsh National Anthem (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau), is being presented as a useful tool for teachers as they attempt to meet the challenges of the new literacy drive in Wales.
"Today has been a great example of the role rugby plays in all our daily lives in Wales," said WRU group chief executive Roger Lewis, who also accompanied the players 'back to school' and joined in the interactive lesson.
"We took a simple decision, having created the Scorch idea in order to reach out to children in Wales and engage them with their national sport, to offer something to schools that could be of real value and use to them at lesson time.
"Ysgol Dyffryn Taf have not only embraced that idea, but they have impressed us all with this amazing lesson today and if this is an example of how the WRU and Schools in Wales can continue to work together then the future is encouraging for all of us."
The Scorch graphic novel is widely available to all fans via a digital online i-comic, free to download at i-tunes. The i-comic has its own sound track recorded by local Welsh actors and features a choir in full voice.
And to complete the full multi-media experience there is also a selection of Scorch themed i-games, which comes in the form of an app for i-phone and i-pad and is also freely available from the above outlets.
Schools, as Dyffryn Taf have done today, are able to make full use of the technology, utilising the interactive comic as a teaching aid before asking children to use their own skills to read on for themselves.
"The children have really enjoyed the experience today and taken an active interest in a detailed lesson which our teaching staff have been able to produce using these WRU resources," said Mr Robert Newsome OBE, Headteacher at Ysgol Dyffryn Taf.
"Our experienced and professional staff work extremely hard on a daily basis on engaging children in the different aspects of school life, but the provision of resources in this manner from an organisation like the Welsh Rugby Union has, as it has been shown today, a real and positive impact in the classroom.
"Jonathan is a highly respected past pupil of the school, we are obviously extremely proud of him and his visit alongside fellow Scarlets and Wales role model Ken Owens and the presence of the WRU's chief executive Roger Lewis has made a real impact on the children today.
"We will be looking forward to the next instalment of the Scorch book from the WRU and would like to wish Jonathan and his team-mates the very best of luck against the Springboks at the weekend."
This latest WRU initiative has been extremely well received with over a third of all schools in Wales ordering copies of the Scorch book, but it has also met with widespread support from the political community.
Rebecca Evans AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales and member of the Assembly's Children and Young People Committee, said: "Driving up standards of literacy and numeracy amongst children and young people is a key priority for the Welsh Government, and resources like the 'Scorch' book provide a fun and engaging way to help children fall in love with reading and improve their skills for life.
"The recent Sport Wales School Sport Survey made very positive reading. It showed that number of young people taking part in sport or physical activity three or more times a week has risen from 27% in 2011 to 40% in 2013, and revealed that 91% of children say they enjoy school sport.
"It shows us that making sport and physical activity enjoyable and fun is critical to boosting participation, and I commend the Welsh Rugby Union on their efforts to reach out to children and young people."
Education Minister Huw Lewis said: "We want to drive up literacy standards and encourage good reading habits for all children in Wales. By giving children access to all kinds of reading materials, whether books, websites, comics or magazines we can show them that reading can be fun. Thanks to this new initiative from the WRU I'm sure children in schools across Wales will have great fun following Scorch's adventures while also improving their reading skills."
Mr Roger Lewis added: "In Scorch we have created a character which will form an integral part of the international rugby experience for fans in the season ahead and beyond and we have been overwhelmed by the response we have had from Schools to this initiative.
"We are hoping he will be able to reach out to children and adults alike in his various forms and he will certainly be a highly visible part of the match-day experience at the Millennium Stadium for the foreseeable future as well as forming an integral part of our Dove Men Series marketing campaign.
"The graphic comic is a great way for us to introduce him to a younger audience and it also enables us to reach out to a school age audience at a time when we have matches - such as the Friday night clash with Tonga - specifically targeted towards a family audience.
"But also we felt that if Scorch is going to be accepted into the hearts and minds of the Welsh rugby watching public, as we hope he will be, for the foreseeable future it was important that we spelt out his back story and created a genuine context for his arrival at Millennium Stadium this November."
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