After what was his final game with Northampton Saints, Academy Coach Will Parkin could not hide his delight to see his Under-18 side complete a second-half turnaround to beat Yorkshire Academy 40-21.
The boys in Black, Green and Gold continued their Premiership Rugby U18 Academy League campaign on Friday afternoon, running out on Pitch 2 at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens following a thumping opening win over Leicester Tigers.
But despite continuing their unbeaten start to the new season, Saints did not have everything their own way and had to answer many tough questions from Yorkshire throughout the 70 minutes.
The hosts went into the interval trailing 14-5; Rafe Witheat had opened the scoring for Northampton, but a brace from Yorkshire hooker Seb Easterby-Gray gave the away side a nine-point lead at half-time.
However, five second-half tries sealed a second straight win for Saints – who have reached the competition’s final for two consecutive seasons – with Robert Gaffan, Preston MacFarlane, Louis Haley, Alfie Hoyles and captain Billy Pasco all crossing the whitewash to seal a victory. Fly-half Haley also notched five of six conversions to help complete the comeback.
“The score isn’t the biggest thing for me, I always say that,” admitted Parkin. “The lessons these lads will have learned from this game is huge in comparison to last week, and that’s what I want them to take away.
“When they’re under pressure, when they’re in positions where things aren’t going right, they can learn from their experience today – they can speak on the move and change those things during the half, rather than waiting for half-time for us to discuss.”Will Parkin, Academy Coach
“Yorkshire was a really good test. We speak around wanting to put these lads under pressure and their skills under pressure. Yorkshire did exactly that. They made it hard work at the breakdown, hard work in the collision, and they had some really accurate set-piece and that put our lads under pressure.
“It was good to see our boys up against it, and from being two scores down at half-time to turn that round was really pleasing.”
Saints’ improvement after the break was down to making a few adjustments during the interval according to Parkin, with the home side targeting space in the same way Northampton’s first team often do to devastating effect.
He added: “At half-time, we spoke about our discipline. We knew that they brought a big maul threat, but it was more about our discipline to keep playing the Saints way, rather than discipline in terms of penalties and our behaviour.
“We wanted to keep playing fast, keep trying to find the space – whether that was going around them or through them – and stay disciplined in our contact skills.
“We had to speak about that at half-time, and it was fantastic that the lads turned it around in the second half.”Will Parkin, Academy Coach
With two wins under their belts, Saints’ Under-18s now have a lengthy break from league matches until after Christmas.
But Parkin will have moved on to pastures new by then, as the 29-year-old coach takes on a new role within the RFU’s pathway system, and Charlie Reed joins Saints’ Under-18s coaching set-up.
And after a successful ending to his tenure at Northampton, Parkin is confident the Club will continue to develop top-tier talent to progress into the first-team squad.
“It’s been my home for ten years, and I’ve developed massively as a coach,” he said. “Before the game, I spoke about getting better to the lads – that’s how I live, I want to get better every day.
“I’m just hoping these boys can go on and follow in the footsteps of the previous Academy graduates, and leave the system as better players.”