Micky Ward believes the quality of front-row players coming through the academy system can stand Newcastle Falcons in good stead for the next decade and beyond.
Having made over 200 appearances for the Falcons as a prop-forward himself, Ward is now the club’s front-row coach as well as director of rugby at National One contenders Blaydon.
Presiding over a group including Berwick tight-head Scott Wilson and Richmond-born hooker George McGuigan, Ward said: “We have always had the reputation of producing back-line players, which we will continue to do, but broadening it to the front-row gives is a brilliant base for hopefully the next 10 or 12 years.”
Both Wilson and McGuigan have already featured for the Falcons during the Premiership campaign, and were key pillars of a hugely dominant scrum during last Sunday’s five-try 37-15 thumping of Italian visitors Calvisano.
The two teams meet again near the shores of Lake Garda on Saturday, Ward stating: “Both George and Scotty are great to coach, because they work hard and are willing to learn every day and every session you have with them.
“Obviously they will make mistakes, which is fine as long as they take lessons from them. Their endeavour, work-rate and attitude is really good, and purely as a fan of front-row play I am looking forward to seeing how they develop.”
Wilson, 19, is already a world champion, the former Sedbergh School tight-head having helped England lift the Under-20s World Cup for the first time last summer.
Ward said: “Scotty has all the talent in the world, and has now got to make sure he fulfils it.
“Physically he is strong, he has a great rugby brain and he knows where he needs to be at any given time. His skills are strong, and he is extremely smart in how he processes what you tell him.
“With Scott, you tell him something and it sinks in first time. He has brilliant foundations as a rugby player.”
McGuigan’s Ireland defeated Wilson’s England during this year’s age-group Six Nations, Ward also having high hopes for the hooker.
“I have actually played against George a couple of times for Blaydon when he was at Tynedale, and as a coach that gives you a greater understanding of what he is about in the middle of that front-row.
“He has developed a lot over the last two years, and is starting to turn into a good player at a high level of competition.”
Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards echoed his front-row coach’s enthusiasm, Scottish loose-head Grant Shiells having also been to the fore last weekend.
He said: “You look at Grant, Scott and George and they don’t hold back. They give it their all every single time they take the field, and that is fantastic for the club.
“Technically there are some issues which we are working on week-in, week-out, but that is all part of their development.”
Exhibiting careful management by selecting their games, Richards added: “They are moving forward, and moving forward at a rate of knots, but we still have to be careful given how young they are.
“In the positions they play you can’t push them too far too soon, but it is great to have that kind of talent at the club and to see them making positive progress. If you look at the pack as a whole, even behind the front-row, we are a relatively young group.”
Meanwhile, the Falcons have confirmed their final two group games in the LV= Cup, travelling to Saracens on Sunday, January 26 (3pm), before hosting Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday, January 31 (7.45pm).