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Junior Saints credit Academy coaches for their Spanish experience

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

The Moulton College centre, who recently put pen to paper to join the club's Senior Academy from this coming summer, is one of five Junior Saints to be sampling life in Spain this week as part of John Fletcher's squad. The quintet, which includes Danny Hobbs (prop, Moulton College), Sam Olver (fly half, Oundle School), Reece Marshall (hooker, Moulton College) and Howard Packman (wing, Moulton College), have all seen action in one or more of England's first two wins over Georgia and Wales.

And with a re-match of last year's final against Ireland on the horizon, Stephenson says that the recognition that the players have received has a lot to do with the attitude and encouragement provided by Alan Dickens, Mark Hopley and Dusty Hare.


"Having so many Saints lads in the squad shows how we're coming on at the club," he commented. "Last year there were three of us, this year there are five. It's a credit to the Saints Academy and the hard work put in by Alan Dickens, Mark Hopley and Dusty Hare, who are brilliant at getting the lads in to train and organising so many matches for us."


Hobbs is another player to be joining the full-time ranks ahead of next season, and he says that it is good for both the club and the individuals concerned to have so many Saints involved at national level.


"It's good to have a number of Saints players in the Under-18s," he said. "We all know each other and get on with each other. But we know all of the other players well, too, now and we all get along."


Marshall is one of three of the Saints - the others being Olver and Packman - who is still eligible for Under-17 rugby. But he says that playing so many games this year in the black, green and gold has helped him earn representative recognition, saying: "We've had a really good season and all the guys in the Academy have really come on.


"We've played a lot of games this year, which we haven't done in previous years, and that's down to Dusty coming in, and the coaching done by Dicko and Hoppers. I feel personally that I've developed as a player and the rest of the lads have, too, and that's probably the reason why we've been looked at a lot more."


However Packman says that he would not be in Madrid this week if he was not concentrating on his academic work at Moulton College.


"There's a good balance between my rugby and my schoolwork at Moulton College," he added. "The coaches are always saying how our school work is important and how we have to balance it out."


Meanwhile Olver is looking to use the experience of the past couple of weeks as motivation to take the next step in his rugby development, commenting: "Like Howard and Reece I want to use the experience of this year into next season if we get picked. It's really good to have them around, and hopefully the experiences we're having in Madrid can help us when we go back to the club."


With two wins under the belt in Madrid coming hot on the heels of Six Nations successes over France and Scotland, confidence is understandably high in the English camp ahead of Saturday's final.


"The team's a lot different to last year, and for me I've been involved a lot more this time around," Stephenson said. "We've got to the final again so there are high expectations and we think we can win this year. We're improving game by game and hopefully we can use the Wales game as a springboard to the final."


Hobbs added: "The scrums went well against Wales, and around the pitch we worked hard and it all helped us get the win. It was a good feeling in the dressing room afterwards. We're all proud of each other for getting the win and making the final."