Northampton Saints' Academy has long been considered the blue-print for English club rugby. The first full-time Academy at Franklin's Gardens was established in 1997 and has consistently produced players capable of playing professional rugby ever since.
Household names that have been produced by the Saints Academy include England World Cup winners Steve Thompson and Ben Cohen and more recent internationals like Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes.
In 2010 Dusty Hare joined the Saints as Academy recruitment and development manager. Together with the appointment of former Saints players Mark Hopley and Paul Diggin as Academy coaches along with the experienced Jon Curry and Elite Player Development Group Manager Ross Stewart, the club is now putting in place the framework to ensure that the steady stream of home-grown quality players continues long into the future.
Indeed, in 2012/13 the Saints Academy produced more England age group players than any other Aviva Premiership club, including six to the England Under-20 Six Nations winning squad and four to the group which won the IRB Junior World Championship at the end of the season.
There are several tiers to the Saints Academy system. Over 100 young players aged between 13 and 20 receive coaching from the club, ranging from the bi-weekly Elite Player Development Groups, based in Northampton and Bury St Edmunds, to the full-time Senior Academy who train full-time at Franklin's Gardens.
In between there are age groups at every year with the focus being on developing the indivdual, both on and off the field. Players are also given regular game time in the Under-16, Under-19 and Wanderers sides, and it is a regular sight to see players from the Junior Saints Academy playing alongside more seasoned professionals. The Academy management firmly believes that exposing players to a higher standard of rugby can only be beneficial to the individual himself as well as to the club as a whole.
The Saints Senior Academy is a group of players, usually in their first years out of school, that trains full-time alongside the professional squad and therefore benefit from the experience of the older players and the world class skills of the Saints coaching team. Most have played for the Saints first team in in the LV= Anglo-Welsh Cup and Premiership.
The latest graduate of the Saints Senior Academy to make his mark at international level is Courtney Lawes. Lawes used the 2008/09 Anglo-Welsh Cup as a springboard to regular selection in the Saints first team, even earning the man-of-the-match award in the European Challenge Cup home tie against Montpellier. At the end of that season he starred in England's run to the IRB Junior World Championship final, but 12 months later he was on a bigger stage, starting for the full national team at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, aged just 21.
The Academy fixture lists are comprehensive and include regular tournaments as well as games against top class opposition. And with the club's continuing involvement in the 'A' League the next generation of Saints players will continue to be exposed to the highest standards of rugby.