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Hopley: Academy reshuffle will help Saints youngsters flourish

Northampton Saints’ head of academy Mark Hopley believes several changes within his set-up can pave the way for further success during the 2019/20 season and beyond.

The Saints Academy remains a cornerstone of the Club, going from strength to strength during the 2018/19 season with ten new graduates making their full debuts for Northampton, and 45% of the first-team squad is now made up of academy alumni.

Moreover, five players graduated from the Under-18s side into the Senior Academy and are currently midway through their first preseason campaign as professional players.

“We’re confident these changes will produce an alignment of coaching from DPP to first XV level.”

Mark Hopley, head of academy

And with a host of fresh faces within the set-up this season, including new coach Jake Sharp and former Saint James Craig, Hopley is excited to see the results his dynamic new team can produce.

“The Club have once again upped the investment into the academy this season with Alex O’Dowd coming in as programme manager and Jake Sharp as another coach,” he said.

“They join the team alongside Will Parkin who will continue to lead the under-16 group, while I’m delighted to confirm there’s one more addition in James Craig, who has re-joined the Club having retired from his playing role with Saints at the end of last season.

“James will lead the DPP (Developing Player Programme) which we have moved back into the academy structure from the Club’s community team.

“We’re confident this change will produce an alignment of coaching from DPP to first XV level, and ensure ‘playing the Saints’ way’ is promoted throughout.

“I’m really excited with the changes we’ve made and also to welcome Jake and James on board; they are full of enthusiasm and really competent young coaches, so I am positive we can improve even further on last season in 2019/20 and beyond.”

Following the 2018/19 RFU Academy Audit, the Saints Academy have also proactively made several changes within the pathway this term to ensure the quality of the Club’s programmes improve.

An Under-15 PDG (Player Development Group) will now run alongside the Under-16 PDG, granting exposure to the very best coaching in the region for those invited, alongside training with the best players in their age group and a movement-based strength and conditioning course.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be back at the Club and I hope I can contribute to even more success for the Saints Academy.”

James Craig, DPP manager

The number of DPP sites will also be reduced from six to four, by merging Hunts & Peterborough with Cambridgeshire and East Northants with the Northampton Alliance.

“We wanted to ensure the highest-possible quality of coaching at each DPP site, so took the decision to operate from only four locations this season,” said DPP manager Craig, who retired from playing last season after 73 appearances in the Black, Green and Gold jersey.

“This will allow our coaches to have a more individual focus on players to enhance their development, and provide a better experience for the players, parents and coaches involved.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be back at the Club on a full-time basis after gaining some invaluable experience coaching the academy sides in recent seasons while I was still playing. I hope I can contribute to even more success for the Saints Academy as we look to bring through the next generation of standout players for Northampton.”

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