The Wales assistant coach Rob Howley believes that the latest crop of youngsters to be included in the national squad can be the spark that lights a fire under the country's Six Nations challenge.
The Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, has pursued an investment in youth that was seen as an integral factor in Wales reaching the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. The captain, Sam Warburton, George North and Toby Faletau were among the players who emerged from the tournament as global stars. Gatland's 35-man training squad for the Six Nations includes further evidence of the promising talents being churned out by the regional academy system – the Ospreys centre Ashley Beck, 21, and the unheralded Cardiff Blues wing Harry Robinson, 18, were among those called up.
Wales head to Poland on Sunday for a week-long pre-tournament training camp. Howley said: "It's very encouraging to see these youngsters coming through.I am delighted with Ashley Beck, he has played very well and has benefited from having a regular starting berth at the Ospreys. These new faces can put pressure on some of the more established members of the squad. For example, Ashley can put pressure on the likes of Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams, who all did so well at the World Cup.
"But we have to remember that we failed at the World Cup – we lost in the semi-final and we have to reignite that enthusiasm which we had before the World Cup. Going to Poland is part of that and bringing in fresh faces makes people realise you are not guaranteed your position."
Wales held two camps in Spala last summer, and Gatland felt the trips proved hugely beneficial when it came to the start of the World Cup. Wales will be in Gdansk this time but they will adopt a similar itinerary, including the use of cryotherapy chambers in which the temperature can drop as low as -110C. Howley hopes the positive effects will be in evidence when Wales face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on 5 February.
He said: "Hopefully we can recreate that intensity on the players both physically and technically and it will help us to find the right selection for Ireland. This camp is really an MOT of a player. Some of the players have come back after the World Cup and had a rest before the Heineken Cup, but some were put straight in and have had an intense period with the number of games over Christmas, which is not an easy time for players."
Meanwhile, the Wales tighthead prop Adam Jones has expressed a desire to stay with the Ospreys – if they offer him a four-year contract. The Lions tourist has been offered "stupid money" to move to France when his Ospreys deal expires at the end of the season. Jones has been at the Ospreys since their formation in 2003.
"If I could get a four-year deal on the table I would snap their hand off," said the 30-year-old. "That would take me to the next World Cup. I want to stay but if the Ospreys don't want me then I am going to have to go. I have had offers from everywhere but staying would be ideal. The region have shown nothing but support, but if we don't come to an arrangement I have to leave.
"France will be the first place I go. There is more money on offer in France and it is stupid money, but there is more to this decision than how much cash you can earn. There are other things to think about."
The Welsh Rugby Union fears that a recent player exodus to France is set to continue. James Hook, Mike Phillips and Lee Byrne left the Ospreys for Perpignan, Bayonne and Clermont Auvergne after the World Cup and they will be joined by the Newport Gwent Dragons' Luke Charteris next season, when he moves to Perpignan. Another Lions prop, Gethin Jenkins, has hinted that he could leave the Cardiff Blues for France when his contract expires in the summer.
Jones said: "I am an Ospreys boy. I enjoy life here and the future is bright with the young kids coming through. I will see how it goes over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, it will be sorted. I would like my heart to rule my head on this decision."Reuse content