The Ospreys have handed a first professional contract to promising home-grown 20-year-old loosehead prop Nicky Smith on Tuesday.
Smith has signed a three-year deal after enjoying a breakthrough season with the region that has seen him feature eight times for the Ospreys, including the last three PRO12 fixtures, against Glasgow, Leinster and the Dragons. His senior regional debut came in January 2013 at the Brewery Field, against Sale Sharks in the LV= Cup.
Smith is a product of the Ospreys development pathway, playing for Waunarlwydd RFC and Pentrehafod Comprehensive School as a youngster before representing the region at age-grade level.
He has been a regular in the Principality Premiership for Swansea over the last two seasons, making 31 appearances, and was part of the first ever Wales squad to reach the final of the Junior World Championship, in France last year. He was recently named in the travelling party for this year's competition, which takes place in New Zealand in June.
"I never dreamed in a million years when I was growing up that I'd ever sign a professional contract to play rugby for the Ospreys. To actually achieve it, I'm over the moon," said Smith.
"It's been a big 12 months for me and I feel that I've developed so much. We had a great Junior World Championship last summer, but because I wasn't involved as much as I'd want to be ideally, I wanted to really kick on this season and establish myself with Swansea and Wales U20s ahead of this year's tournament. I think I've grown over the course of the year and to get some appearances for the Ospreys has been unbelievable. I'm really enjoying it.
"This is just the beginning for me though, I'm nowhere near the finished product and I'm going to need to show a lot of patience, put in plenty of hard work, and it's going to take time. There is big competition and some big names in the Ospreys tight five so I've just got to be patient, bide my time, keep learning and take any chances that I get."
Andy Lloyd, Rugby Operations Manager, hailed the news, stressing that Smith is in the best place for a young prop to develop.
"He's been in the system for a few years now and is someone that has the potential to be a huge success for the region" said Lloyd.
"Although he only just turned 20 this month he is a very mature young man. He's a fine physical specimen, a great scrummager and a dynamic ball carrier, and he can also be a destructive defender. With all that in mind we genuinely believe that we have a potentially outstanding loosehead prop on our hands.
"He has made a positive impression in and around the senior environment recently and has gained some valuable experience that will stand him in good stead for the future. However, it is important that he realises that there is still a lot of hard work in front of him if he is to establish himself as an Osprey.
"The environment here is geared to getting the best out of young players and helping them achieve their potential and our track record in development, particularly in the pack, is unrivalled. With the right attitude, and the right support, he has a bright future ahead."
Nicky becomes the ninth player to have signed a new contract since the start of the year, following on from Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Lewis, Ashley Beck, Eli Walker, Jonathan Spratt, Ben John, Ryan Bevington and Dmitri Arhip. In addition, Rynier Bernardo, Josh Matavesi, Sam Parry and Dan Evans will all be moving to the region in time for pre-season.