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Parkin proud of Saints Under-18s’ run to Premiership final

Northampton Saints’ Under-18s might not have ended their season by lifting the Premiership Rugby Academy League trophy, but coach Will Parkin remained full of pride for his side’s efforts to reach the competition’s grand final.

Having topped the Northern Conference earlier this month, the young Saints were agonizingly beaten 27-19 by London Irish on Sunday evening, in what was their second straight appearance in the competition’s showpiece match after also coming up just short last season against Bristol Bears.

Northampton’s starlets shot out of the gates at StoneX Stadium, with Henry Pollock and Toby Cousins both scoring impressive solo efforts to open up a lead – however the Exiles pegged Saints back with tries from Louie Heard, Kepueli Tuipulotu and Finn Worley Brady to hold a 19-12 advantage at half-time.

Again, Saints started quickly after kick-off, with Sol Moody burrowing his way over the whitewash off the back of a rolling maul to level the scores, but George Goodridge’s effort for Irish kept Parkin’s side at arm’s length until Rory Taylor’s penalty with the clock in the red ended the contest.

“We flew out of the blocks really well at the start of the game, and moved the ball well early on with some of our big players having some big impacts,” said Parkin.

“But ultimately, our breakdown was poor and we ended up losing the ball in contact quite often, which then didn’t allow us to get our game – which involves keeping the ball alive and finding the best space as fast as we can – onto the pitch.

“Credit to Irish, they did not allow us to play our game, but the boys will have learned a lot and there’s a good number of players who will still be in this group next year.

“We’ve been working together as a group for six seasons now, since most of the boys were playing Under-13s rugby. All that hard work has culminated in a second Premiership final in a row – which is the very highest level these guys can play at currently within Club rugby, so we’re massively proud of that achievement.

“The result will hurt for the lads. But we speak all the time about this programme being all about their development, and this is another experience of playing in a big game, and there will be a lot that this group learns from this final to become better players.”

Will Parkin, Academy Coach

Saints’ Academy programme continues this spring, with the Club’s Under-16s and Under-17s players competing at an RFU Festival across the weekend of April 1-2, before the Under-17s face Yorkshire Academy, Leicester Tigers and London Irish later that month.

Meanwhile several of the Under-18s group will be contracted by Saints to join the Club’s first-team squad as part of the full-time Senior Academy set-up from the 2023/24 season onwards.

Parkin added: “We spoke pre-match about the group enjoying the experience, having played six seasons together.

“While they can’t say they ended this journey by lifting a trophy, they will look back and hopefully say they enjoyed the player pathway with Saints and made friendships which will last their entire lives.

“We wish all those guys bringing their Under-18 careers to an end with us the best of luck and we’ll do our best to support them on their next step of their careers – whether that’s at university, other clubs, or coming into the first-team squad next season with Saints.”

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