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Ystrad to host U18 Six Nations

Wales U18 head coach Chris Horsman believes the inaugural U18 Six Nations festival to be held this Easter (March 31 - April 8) will prepare his players for senior rugby in more ways than one.

For the first time, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and hosts Wales come together to play three games each over eight days and it all gets underway at the Dragons base in Ystrad Mynach.

Horsman has switched positions with fellow Wales U18 coach Geraint Lewis in readiness for this event and is looking forward to having the whole squad in camp for an extended period of time.

“The Under 18s programme is the first time players experience the international pathway and it’s important we use the opportunity well," said the former 14-times capped Wales prop.

“While we have three matches to prepare the team for, the challenge for us as a management team is how do we make the players better as individuals on and off the field. 

“We have a duty to players to introduce the best strength and conditioning habits to them, to help them understand the self-analysis process and take them out of their comfort zone so that come up with their own solutions to obstacles they will face in matches, on the training pitch and in managing their life outside rugby.”

Horsman has been a WRU international skills coach since 2014 after taking RGC 1404 from non League rugby to an established National Championship side. He and Geraint Lewis have interchanged the roles of head coach and forwards coach for this festival. 

Horsman believes players are now progressing to the international side at a quicker pace than ever – even more reason to prepare them well at this stage.

“It was only a couple of years ago that Jason (Strange, Wales U20 head coach), Geraint Lewis and I worked with players like Elliot Dee, Ryan Elias and Dillon Lewis at Under 20 level and now we’re bumping into them at the National Centre of Excellence as part of Warren Gatland’s squad.

“Our current U18 players are aware of what could be in store for them if they work hard and it’s up to us to prepare them for that, both within under 18 and under 20 set-ups.”

Horsman believes having three Tests in the space of eight days will be of huge benefit to the players.

“Every match will expose the players to different styles of play and test the players but our big focus will be on ourselves. We want to provide an environment to enable the players to improve in the long-term by giving them the tools and skills to work out how to do this for themselves. 

“It’s always disappointing to lose as we did last weekend against England but every match is a learning process.  Of our last six matches against England we have won three each and the key thing is to have matches like that to learn from.

“The support was fantastic in Pontypridd and hopefully the players will be well supported in Ystrad Mynach and Cardiff Arms Park this week, it’s so important for them on their journey.”

WRU Head of Rugby Performance Geraint John is convinced of the benefits of a Six Nations festival for this age group.

Former Canada and Australia Sevens coach John said, “For me, the U18 Six Nations is a great opportunity for staff to work with players over an extended period and for players to experience a true international environment.

“Playing against other six nations countries, especially under the Six Nations brand is exciting for all concerned and will not only develop players but coaches and support staff too. 

“In order to continue to be competitive at senior level, we need to give players a competition structure and a professional environment which will stretch and enhance their tactical and technical abilities.”

Matchday schedule:
Saturday 31 March, Centre for Sporting Excellence, Ystrad Mynach
12 noon Scotland U18 v England U18
2,30pm Wales U18 v France U18
5pm Ireland U18 v Italy U18

Wednesday 4 April, Cardiff Arms Park
12noon Italy U18 v England U18
2.30pm Ireland U18 v Wales U18
5pm France U18 v Scotland U18

Sunday 8 April Cardiff Arms Park
12noon Ireland U18 v Scotland U18 
2.30pm Italy U18 v Wales U18
5pm France U18 v England U18

Tickets for each matchday are £5 adults, U16s go free (maximum 2 free tickets per paying adult). Tickets for matchday 1 are on sale now at Ystrad Mynach CSE and by calling 01443 864767. Tickets for Matchdays 2 and 3 will only be available on the gate on matchday only.
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