Coach who helped produce Wales' golden generation calls for return of scrapped national academy

The man who played a crucial role in developing Wales' golden generation of players has urged the Welsh Rugby Union to recreate the national academy.

For years the WRU's national academy sat above the regional academies and is thought to have played a crucial role in developing some of the finest players Wales have produced since the halcyon days of the 1970s. The likes of Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones among others are alumni of the national academy, which was eventually scrapped in 2013 due to cost cutting.

Trystan Bevan was at the heart of Welsh rugby at the time and played a big role in developing players who would go on to help Wales find success on the international stage in his role as head of strength and conditioning at the then Cardiff Blues. And Bevan believes reinstating the national academy would greatly improve the quality of player produced in Wales.

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"I personally believe there should be a national academy, if only to create a sense of meritocracy," Bevan tells WalesOnline. "If you are 18 and leave school if you want to get into Oxford or Cambridge then you have to be at a certain level academically to be able to make yourself get into those institutions.

"If you get in they put a lot of demands on you. They pester you and they really see what you are made of as a person before they give you a degree at the end.

"That's what it was like in the WRU's national academy back in the day because people were fighting to get into the regional academies but to get into the national academy you had to be even better.

"I think creating a national academy would be a great step to take. The correlation between having the national academy in place and bringing the so-called golden generation through cannot be ignored while the number of quality players coming through since it was scrapped has dropped."

Bevan went on to work at Wasps and returned to Cardiff as High Performance Coordinator in 2021 before leaving last year. Over the past few years the regions have struggled financially, while the quality of players coming through the academies are not as good as they once were, according to Bevan.

"When the academies started they were much harder to get into," he said. "They made sure the academies were just beneath regional level.

"The academy was a last stop until you became a professional sportsman. People like Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Turnbull and Rhys Priestland, when they were coming through the academy a lot of demands were made of them.

"The expectation of the academy was 'we are judging you as a professional sportsman even though you aren't quite there yet'. The people involved like Mark Bennett, who was the pathway manager with Wales at the time, was excellent.

"He was always looking outside of Wales to see what the standard elsewhere was. Gethin Watts was very good and he was forever building a link between the academy and the regions.

"Back in those days it was so hard to get into the regional or national academy there was a higher sense of consequence or jeopardy, exactly like being in university or an apprenticeship. That was because there were more quality players than there were places to accommodate them.

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"There were loads of quality coaches involved at the time like Gethin, Dai Young, Huw Wiltshire, Aled Walters and Mark Bennett, among others. Look at someone like Jamie Roberts and Sam Warburton.

"In order for them to get into the team when they were at Cardiff, Sam had to compete against Martyn Williams who was arguably one of Wales' greatest ever opensides, and Robin Sowden-Taylor who was the next big thing.

"So, Sam's level of performance and preparation had to be equal to some of the best sevens in British rugby at the time. For Jamie Roberts to break into the team he had to get past Jamie Robinson, Tom Shanklin and Gareth Thomas who were all fantastic players, trainers and athletes.

"So, Jamie was under no illusions whatsoever that 'if I don't get to those levels I'm not going to play'. The quantity of quality players in English teams dwarfs Wales whereas before this wasn’t the case at all”

Bevan is one of Welsh rugby's unsung heroes, the sort of coach who does a lot of the unseen work in the background without getting any praise. In 20 years of coaching at the top he has won the European Challenge Cup and an Anglo-Welsh Cup with Cardiff while he helped Wasps top the English Premiership in 2017 before they narrowly lost to Exeter Chiefs in the final.

He has also overseen and worked through a number of world class development systems while he was once offered a place in Rafael Benitez' backroom team at Liverpool, only for the offer to be withdrawn when Roy Hodgson got the job. And Bevan still believes he has a lot to offer Welsh rugby.

"In order to do a head of performance role justice, which I think I did at Wasps and Cardiff, it can be very taxing on your personal and family life," he said. "This was the case with me at Cardiff and I ran out of petrol at the end.

"The break I've had from the game has done me the world of good and I feel I've got a lot to offer in the player development space. In academy and development systems that I have been head of around 80 internationals have been produced like Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Josh Navidi, Jack Willis and Elliot Daly."