Academy head coach Mark Hopley admits he cannot wait to kick off this year’s Premiership Rugby Shield campaign as the Wanderers look to successfully defend their title.
Last term the Wandies secured back-to-back A League triumphs with a 31-21 victory over Exeter Braves in the Franklin’s Gardens final, having topped their Pool courtesy of nine straight wins in the competition before sweeping aside Harlequins in the semi-finals.
With the ‘A League’ now becoming the ‘Premiership Rugby Shield’ from the 2018-19 season onwards, Hopley is hoping the competition continues to provide a pathway for young players to achieve future Gallagher Premiership Rugby success.
“It is a great competition as it’s an opportunity for our young players to make the most of playing against really good opposition,” said Hopley.
"In terms of player pathway, it is an excellent way of bringing players through the Academy."Mark Hopley
“Young players develop by getting playing time and competing against the best, and this competition allows players to get time playing against international players if they are coming back from an injury.
“It allows us to improve players in a Northampton way. We can properly coach them and help improve them as players and help their development.”
The Premiership Rugby Shield has been reformatted to feature two conferences of six teams.
With the competition now structured around England Under-20s fixtures, players will avoid clashes with international duties – much to the delight of Hopley.
He said: “The Shield lets our young England U20s players get game time around playing for their nation.
“If they can play for us and then go away and play internationally, it benefits both the Club and the players.”
Not just benefiting Gallagher Premiership Rugby players, the tournament provides opportunities for up-and-coming coaches to learn their trade.
After their recent successes, the Wandies are now focusing on attempting to clinch a hat-trick of Premiership Rugby Shield victories.
“For young coaches, the Shield is an opportunity to improve their standard of coaching,” said Hopley.
“For coaches like myself we do a lot of planning. This competition allows you to plan during the week and learn from other coaches around you and then apply that to matchdays to get results.”
“We have always taken this competition seriously and we want to win the Shield again.
“You never know how you will get on until you get playing in the competition, but traditionally we have been a strong side at getting players through to the first team off the back of these matches.
“With a younger side than last year, the Premiership Rugby Shield is a perfect place for them to come in. They are going to learn from the matches. We hope it will allow us to get them into the first team in the long term.”
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