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Parkin and Craig impressed with hard-working 2021/22 Senior Academy intake

Northampton Saints’ five newest Senior Academy recruits might have had it tough this year, but coach Will Parkin believes their tireless efforts to secure a contract will stand them in fine stead for the future.

The Club announced today that under-18 players Geordie Irvine, Emeka Atuanya, Tom Lockett, Matthew Arden and Jake Garside will all begin full-time at Franklin’s Gardens ahead of the 2021/22 season.

Parkin (Junior Academy Development Manager) and James Craig (Developing Player Programme Manager) have both kept a close eye over the quintet over the last 12 months – despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic preventing the Club’s Academy from playing any competitive rugby so far this season.

With their talent evident throughout their time in junior rugby for Saints, Parkin has no doubt that Northampton supporters should be excited about the prospects of all five starlets.

“This has been an incredibly challenging year for our young players, who have now had 12 months of training pretty much on their own as opposed to within a group,” he said.

“So, to put themselves in this position to go full-time with us is a real credit to all these players and how hard they have worked, not just over the last 12 months, but over the entire time they’ve been in the Academy set-up.

“This is a big transition to make, but we have huge confidence in them.”

Will Parkin, Saints’ Junior Academy Development Manager

“Our big focus is developing them to be skilful rugby players and exceptional decision-makers who can see space, because that is the sort of player that Chris Boyd and our other senior coaches want to have within the group.

“These boys have come through a mixture of clubs, schools and our own DPP and PDG programmes, so we have to thank all of those coaches and communities for their hard work to get them to this point.

“That’s not forgetting, of course, their parents who have helped the boys stay on top of all their schoolwork and training work we have given them over the last year to help them earn a contract.”

Head of Academy Mark Hopley and his team – consisting of Parkin, Craig, Jake Sharp (Academy Coach) and Alex O’Dowd (Academy Programme Manager) – continue to roll talented youngsters off the production line at Franklin’s Gardens.

An impressive 63% of Saints’ first-team squad is now made up of Academy graduates, meaning the bedrock of the group has been grown in Northampton.

And former Saint Craig, who made 73 first-team appearances himself in Black, Green and Gold, is confident this crop have the right mentality to make it to the very top.

He added: “Where regulations have allowed this year, we’ve been out to see players one-on-one to do what training we can and keep them motivated, while our S&C coach Toby Griffiths has done an outstanding job too, given the boys haven’t had access to any gyms.

“While these guys might possibly have missed out on some technical and tactical development this year due to the lack of Academy rugby, they are also probably further ahead physically than they might have been otherwise.

“We made sure they were training properly and that their attitude to training is right, which has certainly paid dividends and will help them to develop in the long-term.”