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Age group success is positive for Saints, says Dickens

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

A club record six members of the Saints Senior Academy - centre Tom Stephenson, scrum-half Alex Day, wing Tom Collins, fly half Will Hooley and props Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi and Danny Herriott - played in England's Under-20 Six Nations title-winning campaign, which culminated in last Friday's win over Wales in Colwyn Bay.

But at lower levels the club is well represented, too. Five Junior Saints - Howard Packman (wing), Josh Skelcey (wing; both Moulton College), Sam Olver (fly half), Josh Peters (lock; both Oundle School) and Jordan Onojaife (lock; Stowe School) - have played in England Under-18s' wins over Wales and Scotland in the past few weeks, with Packman, Skelcey, Peters and Onojaife all chosen in the squad for the upcoming FIRA/AER championships in Grenoble, which gets underway on Friday.

Peters is actually still also eligible for Under-17s rugby and also started in England Under-17s' win over Georgia last weekend.

England racked up six tries in their 34-12 success at Broadstreet RFC, a game in which Peters was joined by St Joseph's College wings Austin Beckett and George Wacokecoke and Northampton School for Boys centre Rotimi Segun.

Indeed Segun was playing a year above his own age group last weekend after scoring against the Saints Under-17s while playing for England Under-16s the previous Sunday. Paddy McDuell (fly half; Bedford School) also scored a try in England colours that day, with the pair joined by forwards Henry Peck (Vandyke School), Freddie Davison (Bedford School) and Garth Spencer (Biddenham Upper School) in the squad which will face Italy and Wales in April.

And a further half-dozen Under-16s, George Furbank (Kimbolton School), John Hawkins (Manshead School), James Pollard, Daniel Bhatti (both Bedford Modern), Alex Moon (Sedburgh) and Tim Cardall (Prince William School) being chosen in either the England South or North squads for next month's Wellington International Festival.

"It's really positive for us," Dickens says. "It's our aim in the Academy to produce players who have the ability to play for Northampton Saints and for England. We very much see the age group rugby as a stepping stone to achieving that goal.

"Ultimately selection comes down to the hard work that the players put in. But what we have tried to provide them is the opportunity for them to show their skills and abilities through the playing programme.

"That has slowly built over the past three years, and while it was hard to get fixtures in the past we've been able to put a list together, including the Premiership Rugby Academies League which has been beneficial for the young players to show their abilities.

"The best way of learning is to play games. We structure our sessions to encourage learning through match situations, which is the next best thing, and all of our coaches, led by Ross Stewart along with Simon Sinclair and Barry Burgess, do a considerable amount of work during the week to bring the players on and give them opportunities."

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