Modern-day front-row factory up with the best
THE Welsh economy may not be in great shape, but output is booming in Llandarcy, where the Ospreys are polishing their reputation in the niche area of top-quality props and hookers.
Welcome to Welsh rugby's front-row factory.
Once sited in Pontypool, with Ray Prosser master of all he surveyed, these days it has relocated to South West Wales, and in particular the training base of the Pro12 champions.
Aaron Jarvis's elevation to the Wales squad is the latest indication that the formula the Ospreys are using to hone those who operate with low numbers on their shirts is working.
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Over the past three years the region have supplied seven front-row forwards to the national team — Duncan Jones, Paul James, Ryan Bevington, Huw Bennett, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones and Craig Mitchell.
It says everything about their ability to adapt that they have remained a force despite seeing so many players from one area of the side disappear from the region every time there's a round of internationals.
Against Leinster in Swansea on Sunday, the challenge will be greater than ever, with two youngsters, Joe Rees and Matthew Dwyer, likely to pack down alongside Duncan Jones.
But however that goes the Ospreys are clearly doing it right when it comes to front-row play. It is a messy, often frustrating area, where incorrect refereeing calls can ruin a team's efforts, but the region have established themselves as one of the main players in the market.
"We are proud of what we do here," said Jonathan Humphreys.
"We have a group of players who are constantly striving to get better.
"That is the thing that motivates us all, the desire to improve. The moment you sit back and think you've cracked it — that will be the time when things go wrong."
It hasn't always been easy for Humphreys in a world where poison darts can be lobbed at someone anonymously in cyberspace.
He and Sean Holley copped terrific flak a couple of years ago, but Humphreys has turned around the public perception of him thanks to the quality of the Ospreys' efforts up front.
But he isn't big on wallowing in praise, preferring to share around the plaudits.
"What makes good coaches are good players," said Humphreys.
"Of course I take a lot of pride out of seeing players realising their potential.
"I'm desperate to see Aaron Jarvis get capped, desperate to see Richard Hibbard do himself justice at Test level, desperate to see Ryan Bevington get rewarded for all his hard work.
"Those boys and others are really putting in the effort and deserve their rewards.
"We also have a really good conditioning department who focus on ensuring people are strong enough for what they are supposed to do on the pitch.
"So you can see the body shapes change of people like Aaron Jarvis and Joe Rees, while young Nicky Thomas is in the process of doing the same.
"They do rugby-specific training.
"My theory is that if you get a prop to squat in a certain way, with his feet correctly positioned, and he gets used to doing that with a ton of weight, there is no reason why he should depart from those principles when he goes onto the pitch.
"It's all about people taking the principles of what they do in the gym onto the field of play.
"If you then put in the work on scrummaging techniques you are on your way."
The Ospreys required the wisdom of Solomon last term when a decision needed to be made on which loose-head prop to let go — Paul James, Duncan Jones or Ryan Bevington — because of budgetary cutbacks.
"We had three excellent loose-heads on our books, so it was always going to be disappointing to lose one of them," said Humphreys.
"But we don't possess the finance to keep three internationals in the same position, so one of them had to go. It's like picking between your three kids. One of them has to go — which one? You can't do it.
"No-one wanted to lose Paul, because he'd been a massive part of the history of this place and he was playing really well.
"But we just couldn't afford to keep all three.
"If you said to me that I had to lose Duncan, one of the most unbelievable professionals in the game, I would have been devastated. I also have someone in Ryan Bevington who has the potential to be as destructive as anyone and he is only 23."
Joe Rees is seen as a good prospect, while Dwyer has a chance to make his mark behind Hibbard and the injured Scott Baldwin.
But Duncan Jones is going to be key over the next month.
Still outstanding after all these years, he faces the challenge of holding the front-row effort together when resources are hugely depleted.
"He is the man for that challenge," said Humphreys.
"But we just want to keep progressing in this area.
"You want to stand for something as a group. You want a reputation for doing something good.
"We've been tested a lot over the years and come up short once or twice, but generally we have done well and that is in no small way down to the efforts of the players.
"It has to be an eight-man effort.
"Tips (Justin Tipuric) will always have a crack, saying when the scrum goes well it's the front five but when it goes wrong it's because of the back row.
"He's kidding, but the serious point is we have people here who want to scrummage.
"There are also always opportunities for youngsters, because we have so many people away with Wales."
It is all about pushing on. If the Ospreys are to do that in the league this weekend, they need the front-rowers to stand firm against Leinster.