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Saints fall just short in the 2024 Under-18s Academy League Final

It was heartbreak for Northampton Saints as they were pipped to the post by Bath Rugby on Sunday evening, as the boys in Black, Green and Gold lost 34-33 in the 2024 Academy League Final at Kingsholm.

A thrilling contest saw Saints trail at the break as tries from Edoardo Todaro and captain Billy Pasco were mixed in with three Bath scores from Connor Treacey, Julian Nunn and Theo Malik to open a 19-12 lead at half-way point.

Kieran Perkins crossed and replacement Ben Agbenu landed the first of his brace to pull Saints ahead only for Steffan Emanuel to cross and pull the scores level with a successful conversion. When Agbenu struck for a second time from distance with 14 minutes remaining, hopes were high that Northampton had done enough to secure victory – but back came Bath with a James Linegar drop-goal and Emanuel's second try in the final minute denied Saints by a single point.

“In-terms of the overall game, we were slow to get out of the blocks,” said Coach Charlie Reed. “Bath, in the way that they played with the ball and their collisions in the first 20 minutes certainly put us on the back foot.

“After having a poor first half and still being in the game, I thought we had a good sniff in the second half, but Bath were just too strong for us in the end and congratulations to them on the win."

Charlie Reed

“The line out struggled to function, and I think we will always be a side that will struggle in that area. If we think about contact time with our boys, we get a couple of hours on a Tuesday night and that’s about it. So, for the limited contact time, we know that those kinds of things will have a negative effect on our game. 

“Having said that, to not have any real set-piece opportunities in the game and only lose in the final play of the game, there is real credit to the boys on what they did away from the set-piece. It would be easy to pin it on that, but looking at the bigger picture, with a minimal amount of contact time going into that final, it is something I am happy to overlook.”

Whilst the boys in Black, Green and Gold may have fallen just short, Reed was full of praise for some individual performances from the game.

He said: “I thought Kieran Perkins was very good along with Rhys Harries. Aidan Ainsworth-Cave coming back from injury had a great performance. 

“Ben Agbenu was frustrated not to be in the starting 15, but he came on and scored two outstanding tries. He always has that in his locker and has the ability to change a game, and he certainly proved that. Fair play and real credit to him for accepting being on the bench after starting the rest of the Academy league games. To come on and put in a performance like that, he should be proud of himself.”

Reed oversaw a side that won five of its six North group games heading into Sunday’s final and was complimentary of the group’s achievements.

“There is a real sense of togetherness that breeds within this academy,” Reed added. “We used 36 players throughout the league season, so it was a real squad effort. The amount of Under-17s that have also stepped up and earned their spot on either the bench or the starting 15 is a massive credit to their development and how we have trained as a squad.

“We have won the North league three years on the bounce, and we have just come up short in the last hurdle on a few occasions. I love being part of this academy and the way the boys played yesterday is something we can be proud of.”

“What we want to do is make these boys better players and better people. As a coaching team, we can confidentially say that we have done that. What I also liked was as a team we were unapologetically ourselves in terms of the way that we play.”

Charlie Reed

“You can put us on any pitch or in any environment and we will still look to play with ambition and look to move the ball as well as we can. The fact that we didn’t shy away from that when we were under the pump is something that is a massive credit to the boys who come through the academy with that mind set.”

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