With budgets squeezed and squad sizes reduced, all four regions are giving youth its chance and reaping unexpected benefits as a result.
Cardiff Rugby head coach Matt Sherratt has handed 19-year-old flanker Lucas de la Rua a dream full debut for his hometown club in the Invesco Champions Cup opener against five-time champions Toulouse. He will be one of five current Cardiff Academy players in the matchday 23.
His fellow Wales U20, and former Cardiff & Vale College, back row colleague Mackenzie Martin will be packing down alongside him. Efan Daniel, who turns 21 next week, is at hooker, Jacob Beetham at full back and hooker Evan Lloyd is on the bench.
Two other academy players, Cam Winnett and Alex Mann, sit out this game, but have been rising stars all season and should be back for the next round clash with Bath on 16 December.
“If you look at the player profile and the squad the coaches have been putting out, other than I think a couple of weeks ago, the average age was 23 or under,” said Cardiff skipper Josh Turnbull.
“Matt Sherratt has been clear that he wants to give young boys a chance because they are the future of the club. Come next season he will want these players to have had as much experience as they can, and it’s down to the senior players like me to chip in and help them out.
“The youngsters are fearless when they get on the pitch and they just want to play from anywhere. We’ve got Mackenzie and Lucas coming along in our back row, and along with Cam Winnett they were all about two-and-a-half when I played my first senior game at the Scarlets.
“They are helping to keep me young and fresh. I have to be on my toes all the time, and they are making me work harder than ever.
“If I can do anything to help them progress then I will do that. I sat down with Mackenzie this week and went through his game against the Dragons, when he was exceptional.
“Then we had a debrief on his Scarlets performance with Ellis Jenkins. There’s not that much you have to say to a 20-year-old of his size and with his ability.
“He’s a powerful ball carrier and he has a high ceiling in this game. If he continues to develop the way he is, he is only going to get better and better.
“Alex Mann has been the top tackler in the URC this season and he has only just come out of the U20s. He’s only missed one game and has been banging out 80 minute performances.
“We have a good load of youngsters here who have the ability to push on. It’s so exciting and refreshing.”
The Dragons will have 19-year-old Wales U20 skipper Ryan Woodman in their back row for the home game in the EPCR Challenge Cup against the mountain men of Oyonnax. Centre replacement Harri Ackerman is even younger at 18, and he is in line to make his senior debut.
Elsewhere in the side, outside half Will Reed, now with 25 senior games behind him at No 10, is only 22, as is replacement hooker Brodie Coughlin.
Scarlets, who will be seeking to build on their Welsh derby win in Cardiff last weekend when they head to Castres Olympique in the EPCR Challenge Cup, have already given game time this season to a handful of players from their academy. Two of them, flankers Ben Williams and Teddy Leatherbarrow, will be packing on either side of 22-year-old No 8 Carwyn Tuipulotu.
Prop Sam O’Connor and lock Ed Scragg are two more academy players among the replacement in France, along with Wales U20 scrum half Archie Hughes. It is a similar situation at the Ospreys.
Head coach Toby Booth is working hard to build a squad based on local talent and has been delighted with the progress made by 22-year-old lock James Fender this season. He starts in the EPCR Challenge Cup clash with Benetton Rugby at the Swansea.Com Stadium, as does 22-year-old full back Iestyn Hopkins.
The Ospreys just missed out on a win in Treviso against Benetton last weekend, when their 18-year-old Wales U20 back row man Morgan Morse came on in the second half. He had his Wales U20 teammates from the summer, Dan Edwards and Harri Houston, playing with him.
Flanker Harri Deaves (22) is joined on the bench this weekend by tighthead prop Ben Warren (23) and scrum half Luke Davies (21).