Hopley targeting strong finish to Premiership Rugby Academies League campaign

The Saints U18s have been in good form recently © Ade Segun

Academy News Hopley targeting strong finish to Premiership Rugby Academies League campaign

Saints Academy coach Mark Hopley says that he is looking for a strong finish to the Under-18s’ Premiership Rugby Academies League campaign, both in terms of performance and getting a good result in the upcoming winner-takes-all clash with Gloucester.

Although Gloucester have won all five of their matches, the Saints’ outstanding attacking record – five try scoring bonus points earned from their five games – sees them top the Northern Conference going into the final round.

The Saints’ only loss has been a narrow 29-26 reverse at Leicester. The third-placed Tigers are at home to the hitherto winless Newcastle on February 8th and with just two points covering the top three teams in the Northern Conference table it is likely that whoever loses between the Saints and Cherry and Whites at Franklin’s Gardens will find themselves out of the semi-finals.

“Obviously we are now targeting victory in the final game against Gloucester, but we’ve also got to remember it’s about more than that,” Hopley said. “It’s all about the performance and the development of the players. We want to continue to get better every week.

“We’ve had quite a few games recently with the goal as a group always to get better with every game and we’ve been going in the right direction.

“The boys have really worked hard in training since we came up a bit short at Leicester and we were able to build up a bit of momentum on the road at Leeds and Newcastle before the most recent win over Sale.

“Creating a winning culture is of course part of that and hopefully, in front of a good crowd here at Franklin’s Gardens, we can get the job done. It’s pleasing that Piggy [David Powell] has cleared the game to be played on the main pitch and that experience is something the lads really enjoy.”

Hopley and fellow coach Paul Diggin have given a number of Under-16 players the opportunity to show what they can do in the Academies League, as well as integrating them into Under-18 training sessions at Franklin’s Gardens.

“We’ve recently had our Under-16 group in for sessions at the Gardens,” Hopley added. “To throw them straight into an Under-18 training session would be a huge ask, so these sessions have allowed us to bring them up to pace and help them get used to the coaching styles of Paul Diggin and myself.

“I’ve been in this job for four seasons now and what I’ve noticed is the increasing quality of the Under-16s coming into the club. It shows that our development centres are working and that’s credit to the coaches there and the jobs they are doing.”

This Saturday the Saints Academy travel to Goldington Road to play Bedford Blues (KO 1pm), before hosting Gloucester in the final home match of the Premiership Rugby Academies League on Saturday, February 8th. Kick off at Franklin’s Gardens will be at 12noon and entry will be free for all supporters!

The full interview with Mark Hopley will be included in this week’s official Saints podcast, which will be available on Friday at www.soundcloud.com/official-saints-rugby

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