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Reed: Sunday’s game a great advert for Academy rugby

Northampton Saints narrowly fell to their first defeat of the Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League season on Sunday afternoon, as they were beaten 49-42 against Sale Sharks in a thriller at Heywood Road.

The boys in Black, Green and Gold had a bonus point wrapped up before half-time thanks to tries from Ben Agbenu, Louis Burns, Alfie Hoyles and Rafe Witheat. 

The try-scoring continued in the second half with two more tries for Saints through Jonny Weimann (who was returning from a groin injury) and Zack Garratt, with all six converted by Louis Haley.

However, while Saints were ruthless at one end, they also conceded as many tries at the other, and with the scores tied 42-all going into the dying embers of the game, a late score from the hosts was enough to see them come away with the victory. 

The two points Saints picked up though keeps them top of the Northern Conference table, with three games left before Finals Day – including a Double Header with Loughborough Lightning at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday 10 February.

After the game, Academy coach Charlie Reed believes the experience his side gained in defeat will be invaluable, and admitted he was impressed by the quality of rugby played by both sides.

“Firstly, it was a great advertisement for that kind of level, with the way that both teams played,” he said. “Both sides were looking to play fast and looking to keep the ball in play as much as possible, and there was some outstanding rugby played on the day. 

“The main thing is that, after having conversations with our boys after the game, they have learned a lot. Understanding, when we go two scores up, but then find ourselves a score down ten minutes later, how the game turns and to deal with a bit of game management.”

Charlie Reed, Academy coach

“So, for the boys, especially with five or six boys playing their first Academy League games, the development they have got out of that game is brilliant. It was just a shame to fall onto the wrong side of the result.”

Despite Saints still sitting top of the Northern Conference table, Reed explained that the emphasis is more on performances than results – but knows that with improvements in performances, results will come hand in hand.

“There is a massive emphasis on performance,” he said. “For example, from an attacking perspective, we always want to play as fast as we can, we always want to find the best space possible, and what’s important in these games is ‘did we do what we spoke about before the game?’ 

“If we get both sides of the ball right, then we will probably find ourselves on the right side of the result. I think on the physical side of the game, that is where we can get better, especially going up against a tough Sale team.

“We lost a few too many collisions which lost us momentum in the game. I know the boys have ambitions to go out and win every game, but from a coaches perspective, if we look after the performance, those kind of results will start to take care of themselves.”

Charlie Reed, Academy coach

Reed was also full of praise for a couple of individual performances on Sunday afternoon.

He added: “I was really impressed with Tom Ross. I thought he led well, and both sides of the ball, his work rate and the effort that he showed was fantastic. It was also great to have Jonny Weimann back. He has been out with a groin problem for the last couple of months, so it was just good to see him get some good minutes under his belt. The effort from all the lads was brilliant.

“I can’t fault the work rate or the effort of any of them, there was just a couple of momentum swings in the game when it didn’t go in our favour. We had James Pater at fullback, starting on debut, which is mainly a credit to how he has been playing at school, and credit to the way he has trained consistently on Tuesday nights with us.”

Highlights: Saints U18s vs Sale Sharks

Attentions now turn to this coming weekend, with Saints facing Midlands West Academy on Saturday afternoon at Stourport High School.

“We definitely want to improve our physicality.” Reed explained. “We fell short on the physical side of the game last weekend, and rugby is a collision-based sport, and we fell on the wrong side a quite a few collisions. We also need to be a bit more connected defensively.”

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