HEAD coach Chris Horsman has picked five Dragons players in his Wales squad for this month’s U18 International Series in South Africa.

Included in the 26-strong party is full-back Jake Morgan, winger Carrick McDonough, centre Morgan Richards, lock Ben Carter and back-rower Ollie Howard.

Wales’ best teenagers have headed to Stellenbosch to join teams from South African Schools, England and France in a triangular tournament since 2012.

A number of graduates from the seven previous trips are in Warren Gatland’s current World Cup training squad, including Dragons stars Elliot Dee (2012) and Leon Brown (2015).

A change in age range means Horsman’s side will be younger than many of the previous teams, with Richards and Bath prop Archie Griffin the only returnees from the 2018 event.

The squad also features Millfield School full-back Dan John, son of former Wales scrum-half Paul John, and outside-half Ben Burnell, whose father Justin Burnell is a former Wales U19 head coach.

“There has been a change in the age grade system,” said ex-Wales prop Horsman. “With every country moving to January 1 from September 1 as an academic school date it meant we were only having one fixture at under-18 level.

“We decided to fall in line with the international calendar. That’s why we’ve brought in the U19 team to give players another opportunity to play international rugby.

“It worked really well for us last season with U19 games against Japan and England. This group going to South Africa is more of an U17 team.

“In the past, the group we’ve taken has been six to eight months older and a lot of the current group are in the first year of sixth form. It’s a younger group, but a very talented group.

“We’ve got a lot of strength in depth in certain positions and for the first time in a few years we’ve got a very good batch of second rows – James Fender, Ben Carter, Chris Tshiunza. There is also some real strength in depth in the back row.

“One of the strengths of our performance pathway is we are very aligned all the way through.

“Coaches of the 18s, 19s and 20s all sit at the same desk, whereas in other countries they only get together in tournament time.

“When you look at our results and performances at age grade level, along with the number of players who transition successfully into regional rugby and the senior international side, we do pretty well.

“But as with everything we can do better. That’s why we’re always challenging what we’re doing in order to become truly world class.”

The team will kick-off against the South African Schools team on August 9 and meet South African Schools A four days later. They complete their trip with a game against France on August 17.

Wales squad

Full-back: Dan John (Exiles), Jake Morgan (Dragons); Wing: Carrick McDonough (Dragons), Jake Thomas (Cardiff Blues); Centre: Morgan Richards (Dragons), Mason Grady (Cardiff Blues), Joe Hawkins (Ospreys), Bradley Roderick (Ospreys); Outside-half: Ben Burnell (Cardiff Blues), Tom Matthews (Northampton); Scrum-half: Luke Davies (Scarlets), Ethan Lloyd (Cardiff Blues); Prop: Theo Bevacqua (Harlequins), Archie Griffin (Bath), Lewys Jones (Ospreys), Kieran Stevens (Ospreys); Hooker: Oliver Burrows (Ospreys), Rhodri King (Scarlets); Second row: Ben Carter (Dragons), James Fender (Ospreys), Rhys Thomas (Ospreys), Chris Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs); Back row: Ollie Howard (Dragons), Travis Huntley (Ospreys), Alex Mann (Cardiff Blues), Peter Vickers (Wasps).