Short-term pain for long-term gain has been a phrase used often in Welsh rugby this season, and the Scarlets certainly hope it applies to them.

It hasn't exactly been a vintage season out west with just three wins to date prompting fears the Scarlets would forever be stuck in the doldrums. But despite all the understandable doom and gloom there is a glimmer of hope.

There have been slim pickings from the Scarlets academy over the past five years but it looks as if the tide is slowly turning. The Scarlets U18s side won the Regional Age Grade (RAG) competition and have the highest representation in the Wales U18s squad.

SIGN UP: Get the new exclusive Inside Welsh rugby newsletter for full insight into what's really going on around all the big issues. This special offer will get you full access for the entire year for just £10 instead of £40.

Those down west strongly believe they have the strongest group of players coming through their academy since the last golden generation of 16 years ago which produced the likes of Jonathan Davies, Ken Owens and Rhys Priestland. The man charged with turning potential into reality is Scarlets' Head of Pathway and Academy Head Coach Scott Sneddon who is hugely excited at what is coming through the pathway.

"From an academy point of view this is the strongest group of lads we've had for six or seven years," Sneddon told WalesOnline. "For me coming into the programme we spoke about making sure these boys are prepared for men's rugby.

"It wasn't about preparing these boys to win the RAGS U18s it was about preparing them to play senior men's rugby and exposing them to training higher than game demands. I'm particularly excited about this group. That’s probably shown by the fact we have 13 of them contracted.

"Physically they are in a really strong position and credit to our S&C coach Osian Edwards and Will Bevan. They are also good rugby players. We are fortunate to have good coaches within the pathway.

"The majority aren't just great athletes, they know the game inside out as well. If I was a Scarlets supporter I'd be excited about the next five or so years ahead with these guys coming through the pathway.

"I oversee the senior academy players which are the 18-23 year-olds. Some are up with the seniors but some are not with the seniors.

"My remit mainly is to look after those boys and to try to push those guys onto the first team. My second remit then is to align the pathway so putting a player development pathway and talent ID together from Dewar Shield, Emerging Player Programme (EPP), all the way up to senior academy as well as putting together a coach development to try to align the coaches to what we would want in a Scarlets player."

Sneddon insists many of the players in the current Scarlets U18s side have the potential to become senior Wales internationals while he even believes some have the ability to one day become British & Irish Lions. He is also confident current senior academy players Archie Hughes, Josh Morse, Macs Page and Harry Thomas have high ceilings.

So, who are the players from the Scarlets U18s squad to look out for?

"I honestly think a few of these guys have the potential to go and play for Wales and the British & Irish Lions," he said. "I guess our challenge now is to provide the support and stretch these guys so they do reach their potential.

"If you look at the boys who are going to come up into the senior academy next year, there's Tom Phillips and Jac Pritchard who is a scrummaging tighthead and there's not many of them around. He's diligent and professional. From a strength and power point of view he's brilliant.

"He's also a guy who watches a lot of rugby so I'm particularly excited about Pritch. Iestyn Cooke unfortunately got a nasty injury in our RAG U18s but he's a big physical guy.

"There's Will Evans in the second-row. We don't produce many second-rows but his ball carrying ability and mindset to work hard is good.

"Keanu Evans is also a top prospect who is an explosive ball carrier. Tiaan Sparrow is also exciting.

"He's had a lot of press but I'd look at him as a young Justin Tipuric in terms of the way he plays. We could have a really exciting back-row in the future.

"But he's so naturally talented and understands the game, so I'm excited about him. One of the most gifted players I've ever seen is Carwyn Jones who was outside-half for Wales U18s recently.

"He's only 16 but he has been playing two years up with Wales U18s. He's got a huge ceiling."

One thing that's for certain is the players are in good hands.

Ask anyone in the upper echelons of Welsh rugby to name the best up and coming coaches in Wales and they'll almost certainly single out Sneddon. The 38-year-old from Llantwit Major played semi-professional rugby as an outside-half for Cardiff, Glamorgan Wanderers and Newport before embarking on a coaching career which began in the then Cardiff Blues pathway.

After briefly working in sales with Under Armour he coached at Rosslyn Park before taking up an opportunity in Hong Kong and eventually moving back to the UK with Loughborough University. Sneddon, who is also defence coach of Wales U20s and also helps the Scarlets senior side, has the potential to coach at senior regional level.

But for now he has his hands full ensuring both Dwayne Peel and Warren Gatland have a steady flow of top class players coming through the system. One area where both the regions and the men's national side have struggled is in the front five where Wales lack big explosive ball carriers.

But this is an area all four regional academies are working hard to fix. "A lot of the guys who go through the English pathway are private school educated and they've got good S&C programmes from a young age," he said.

"I think we've definitely turned the tide from a Scarlets point of view over the last two years in the work that our S&C team have done. I think it's a great move putting the Dewar Shield and the EPP under the umbrella of the regions.

"We've got a curriculum we've passed down through our Dewar Shield and EPP while we've run professional development for our S&C coaches to deliver our programme. I still think Covid hit that 18-20 group at the moment and that's maybe why we are physically behind slightly whereas if you look at our U18s nationally they physically can compete.

Wales U20s assistant coach Scott Sneddon

"I think that's down to having more of a focus on the S&C over the last couple of years. These guys when Covid was around they were too young to really be in the gym.

"The more focus on it has definitely given us a big improvement but I also think it's about the quality of coaches as well. We've been fortunate to have quality coaches but also good partnerships with the likes of Coleg Sir Gar and Llandovery College.

"We've worked in collaboration and those partnerships have proved they are strong in terms of how well both of those programmes have gone this year." One of the biggest threats to the game in Wales is the sheer number of Welsh players who are picked up by prestigious English schools such as Hartpury, Clifton and Millfield with many eventually signing for Gallagher Premiership clubs.

But Sneddon believes the grass isn't always greener on the other side. "I think the reality is you are not going to keep everyone in Wales. Some people will always think the grass is greener," he said.

"I think if you are a young player now and you want to play professional rugby you can see there's a clear pathway in Wales. Through the funding and the way the regions are at the moment it's tough but if you are a youngster looking at what's your best pathway to play regional and international rugby you should get excited about the pathway in Wales.

"I seriously think there's a couple of youngsters who in a few years time will get that exposure to regional rugby and that's only going to accelerate their growth. Naturally we will lose one or two players across the bridge.

"But if you look at the fact Tom Bowen and Steffan Emmanuel who have come back to Cardiff I think they are two educated players who are switched on and have realised that maybe the pathway is better in Wales. I'm pretty confident we can retain most if not close to all.

"We may miss out on one or two but in the grand scheme of things we've also got to look at it from a positional point of view. From a succession plan we can't have 10 back-rowers in our senior academy but we've got to make sure we get the right compliment in the right positions.

"Also, you can go to somewhere like Hartpury and remain part of the Scarlets academy. Ideally, in a perfect world, they'd stay in school within our region because we'd get more contact time with them but sometimes it might not be a bad thing for them to move away from home.

"They might need that challenge to come out of their shell a little bit. We are not going to close the door to them.

"We have seen some boys go to Hartpury and from a numbers point of view we know what they are about. They've got to go into a new environment, prove themselves, but actually they find it tough.

"They don't get the coaching they maybe would have had with us. Hartpury have got a good programme and they’re successful. That's me not downplaying their programme, but we've had boys coming back and not necessarily improving in the time they've been there but we have also had some lads that have developed. Every journey is unique in that respect.

"Outside-half Steffan Jac Jones is a good example of going to Hartpury and coming back into our senior academy. So, the grass isn't always greener on the other side."

The game in Wales is going through a reset with a stronger emphasis on development and improving the pathway than there has ever been before. Sneddon believes there is greater alignment between the age grade sides, the professional clubs and the senior men's national side than there has ever been.

He also believes the new Elite Development Competition will be a step in the right direction while changes have been made to the pathway which will produce more and better players. "The pathway is on the right track," he said.

"The new new licence agreement for the pathways is definitely on the right track. I think everybody would say they'd ideally like more funding to invest into the pathways.

"There's a minimum level of staffing and a minimum operating standards around how we operate. I think that's a big step in the right direction. From a Scarlets point of view increased investment will allow us to grow our staffing group.

"We geographically are more challenged because of the size of our region. The ability for us to work closely with the EPP and Dewar Shield is great but we are two hours from Cardigan/Aberystwyth for example.

"Some boys travel two hours to get to a regional age grade training session. That’s a credit to their commitment. We've moved a lot of stuff further west but from my point of view if we got a bit of extra funding I'd love to create an east and west base for the region where we've got full time S&C for both, full time skills coaches for both.

"We've got a package where people only have to travel 45 minutes to get to training." This may not be the most pleasant period for Welsh rugby fans but the good times may not be as far away as some fear.