Newport High bid to be a class act on league debut
NEWPORT High School will look to show that they are fast learners on the pitch as well as off it when they make their WRU Colleges League bow tomorrow afternoon.
The youngsters take on Bridgend College in the first round of fixtures with the clash being streamed live on S4C.co.uk at 2.30pm with the highlights on the television at 10.30pm.
With clashes to come against Coleg Sir Gar and Pembrokeshire College, things have turned around quite remarkably for a school that five years ago was struggling to put out a first XV.
Now 39 bright prospects aged from 16 to 18 mix their studies with their rugby education at the Dragons Junior Academy under the expert eye of former Cardiff Blues and Pontypridd fly-half Dai Flanagan.
"It's something of a rags to riches tale," said deputy headteacher Nathan Jenkins. "We are making ourselves a proper rugby school, not just a school with a rugby academy.
"Five years ago it was Bettws High School that couldn't put 15 players on the field and now we are running a team in every year group and there has been a massive increase in the number of students playing rugby."
The Newport youngsters have no shortage of advice.
They not only benefit from Flanagan's rugby knowhow but from Leighton Bellamore (a centre with Ebbw Vale) Adam Staniforth (formerly with Exeter Chiefs), James Leadbeater (Newport scrum-half who played Heineken Cup rugby with the Dragons), Rhys Jenkins (flanker with Newport), Glen Stroud (ex-Cross Keys) as well as the Dragons academy coaches and current players Rob Sidoli and Lewis Evans.
It means that there is a quiet confidence of doing well after being invited to join the Colleges League, which has been increased from eight teams to 12.
"We haven't set any formal targets but in our first season we want to finish in the top half of the league," said Jenkins.
"There are some tough sides – Llandovery College, Sir Gar, Coleg Morgannwg, Coleg Gwent – but we see ourselves fitting in with them.
"It's a case of suck it and see but we do know from the WRU analysis that our boys will be competitive."
But, of course, it isn't just the results on the playing paddock that matter for the A-Level students.
Following the lead of Ken Carter, the American high school basketball coach who inspired a Samuel L Jackson film, the young sportsmen won't be donning their kit unless they produce the goods academically.
"It had to be a project that was education first, rugby second for us," said Jenkins. "If the rugby starts getting in the way then they will be pulled out of training and Dai won't pick them.
"The boys are massive role models but they are also treated like any other student; if they miss lessons because of extra training or a match they have got to catch it up.
"They are not given any slack just because they are rugby players and we've got a responsibility with their parents to get their education right.
"Ultimately it's about individuals becoming better prepared for life. We will be lucky if five or six make it as full-time professionals but we will put plenty into the Premiership, Championship and clubs all the way down the leagues.
"We've taken a lot on here but we are prepared to take it all the way."
- Newport High School will be attempting to follow the lead of Coleg Gwent, who won the title in 2012.
They start their campaign with a home encounter with Llandrillo before taking on Cowbridge and Llandovery.