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Hopley: Invaluable lessons learned from Under-18 Academy League opener

Northampton Saints will learn some important lessons from a 12-53 reverse to Leicester Tigers in their Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League opener, according to head coach Mark Hopley.

The visitors took an early lead when Samuel Eveleigh crashed over from close range, but Saints’ scrum was dominant and won penalty after penalty to edge them up the field.

And with 21 minutes on the clock, Northampton levelled the scores as Sol Hyde’s impressive break allowed the centre to find Tommy Freeman outside him, who raced across the whitewash on the right flank.

Ethan Grayson’s conversion attempt was on target to take the scoreline to 7-7, and as half-time approached it looked as though the two sides would enter the break on level terms.

But Tigers stuck a hammer blow in the final two minutes of the half; first striking through James Whitecombe, before a Saints lineout went awry and Leicester capitalized as Led Gilliland latched onto a clever box kick over the top to score again.

At 19-7 down the hosts were still in the contest, but Tigers were clinical in the second half and showed why they are the reigning competition champions as they converted line breaks into points with regularity.

An impressive try from Hyde in the right corner after Northampton quickly put the ball through the hands was not enough to get them back in the contest, meaning this season’s Under-18 Academy League campaign started off with a defeat.

“I’ve told the lads to keep their heads up because this league is all about development,” said Hopley. “Of course we want to win, but those boys will have learnt a lot from that game.

“We defended really bravely and it was a workmanlike performance in the first half to put us in a good position at 7-7, but we conceded those two quick tries just before half-time.

“Leicester are a very good team. They put 60 points on Newcastle last weekend, so we knew coming in that we were probably up against the strongest team in the competition this year.

“They had a couple of breakaway tries here and there so I think the scoreline flattered them a little in the end, but we’ll review this week and make sure the lads learn the lessons they need to – that’s invaluable at this stage of their development.”

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS U18: Sharpe, Dayes, Freeman, Hyde, Martin, E Grayson, Crane, McDowell, Donald, Prowse, Charter, Clayton, Chalk, Rylands, Iyogun (c)
Replacements: Meta, Frostick, King, Ward, Parry, Williams, Betteridge, Mills

LEICESTER TIGERS U18: Steward, Gilliland, Du Randt, Glynn, Browning, Costelow, Van Poortvliet, Maxwell, Vanes, Whitecombe, Manz, Martin, Smith, Eveleigh, Ilione
Replacements: Allsopp, Rowntree, Hardwick, Backhouse, Noumey, Edwards, Dickinson, Phoenix