Morgan Strong was 14 when he heard the immortal words that changed his life.
“You’re not good enough,”said Mark Thomas, youth coach at Welsh National League side Tondu, who also happened to be selecting players for the Bridgend District team, one of the established pathways to a professional career with the Ospreys.
Recalling the chilling moment, Strong explained: “I’d made decent progress at Tondu but didn’t get picked for the District side at first and Mark was brutally honest. That’s the moment when my life changed and I started taking things more seriously.
“Mark still coaches at Tondu and I’ll always be grateful for what he said. It meant I had to go to the gym, work on my game and become a more rounded player. I was always a big ball-carrier but I needed to do more and that’s exactly what I did.
“Eventually, I got called up for Bridgend District and played the last four games of the U15s season. That led to me getting a chance with the Ospreys U16s and I’d say jackalling and tackling are the parts of my game that I now look upon as my strongest.”
The son of former Pontypridd, Aberavon, Bridgend and Tondu No.8 Nathan Strong, Morgan was always destined for rugby. “I had a ball in my hand pretty much from birth and every Saturday I’d be watching from the side or being around the changing rooms with dad.
“Tondu was my local club from the age of five and I went through all the age groups, although I did quit briefly when I was nine to play football. But I was never really cut out to be a footballer and, as I got bigger, I enjoyed the physical side of rugby.”
After captaining Ospreys U16s, Strong progressed quickly and was last year awarded his first senior contract. He featured for Wales in this year’s U20s Six Nations and has now set his sights on following in the footsteps of some renowned No.8s
Strong, 19, explained: “I love watching Kieran Read play, just for his skillset and he’s someone I really look up to as a player. With his reputation and what he’s achieved in the game, there isn’t a better role model and I’m a big admirer of Taulupe Faletau too.
“There’s a bit more to their games than the traditional No.8 – they’re not just ball-carriers but good rugby players and good leaders too. Their all-round skillsets are something to aspire to and I’m working really hard to reach those levels.”
While lockdown has seen Strong working for his uncle as a carpet fitter, he’ll be looking to lay down a few markers when training eventually restarts.
Morgan added: “I managed to get some Celtic Cup games last year and while things were pretty tough for the Ospreys last season, it’ll be a fresh start with Toby Booth coming in as head coach so hopefully I can continue to develop with the team.”