SINCE taking the Sixways helm, resurrecting the once-proud Warriors youth system has been pretty much at the top of Dean Ryan’s priority list.
The Worcester director of rugby has often spoken candidly about his shock and frustration at the way his predecessors neglected the club’s academy.
The Sixways conveyor belt has produced the likes of Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, Matt Mullan, Miles Benjamin, Graham Kitchener and Matt Kvesic over the years.
Those top-class names are all distant memories for the Warriors faithful these days, while the men behind the fruitful system — Andrew Stanley and Gary Meechan — have also departed.
However, there are a few glimmers of hope. Academy-produced first-team regulars Chris Pennell and Alex Grove have seen enough promise in the Ryan regime to commit their futures, despite the perilous league position.
Highly-rated duo Ben Howard and Max Stelling have also been persuaded to put pen to paper on senior deals, while the next generation of Sixways stars are likely to be given their chance in the first XV.
England Under 18 winger Josh Watkins makes his debut in tonight’s Amlin Challenge Cup clash at Sale Sharks and the likes of former King’s School Worcester duo Andrew Boyce and George de Cothi are both highly-regarded by Ryan and his coaches.
Added to that, the club are working hard to snap up the best young talent available to bolster an academy that was reduced to just eight players by former head coach Richard Hill.
Ryan’s scouts have been scouring the globe and have already brought in several exciting youngsters, including winger Dean Hammond, hooker Nick Seymour, centre Andy Symons and lock Shay Kerry, from the southern hemisphere.
“For a long time, Worcester have made a lot of decisions based around the short-term and we’ve not been able to look to the long-term,” Ryan said. “To get world-class athletes in the long-term, you have to put world-class systems in place.
“This isn’t about seeing how we go next week, it’s about creating an environment that, if you’re involved in it, you will be supported, advised and challenged on a world-class level.
“If you come out the other end, you will have the potential to be a top-six Premiership player.
“If you do that, you will be pretty close to playing international rugby and that is the aspiration of this club, yet those things have never been Put in place.
“This is the first time we are starting to do that and the investment now will produce those sort of athletes in the future.
“I think it is an enormous statement that endorses all of the things I spoke about when I came here — the challenges and potential I saw.”
The Warriors chief added: “The young lads like Tiff Eden, who has been injured, Elliott Davies and Max are the core of what we’ll be in five or six years, so we have to invest time in them.
“Sam Vesty is great with them — if I was a 17-year-old like Sam Smith and still at school, but had someone like Sam talking to me about life and professional rugby, I would be very pleased. He’s new to coaching — the jumping up and down on the touchline and the being frustrated when we lose, but welcome to the next 20 years!”