Academy coach Will Parkin is calling on his Northampton Saints Under-18s side to play fast rugby with plenty of intent, as they get their Academy League campaign underway with a derby clash against Leicester Tigers.
After almost two years without league action (with a hiatus enforced as a result of the pandemic), Saints’ youngsters get back to competitive rugby on Friday evening against their East Midlands rivals, with six regular-season matches ahead of them before Finals Day in February.
Northampton did play a few friendly matches during the summer, and Parkin – who coaches the side this term assisted by fellow Academy coaches Mark Hopley, Alex O’Dowd and Tim Grimsey – has selected a number of players in his first line-up of the season with Under-18s experience already under their belts, including Craig Wright, Nick Tarr, George Lavender, Ted Reid, Archie Kean, Frankie Sleightholme, and Toby Thame.
Meanwhile, a number of Under-17 players will be making their debut at this level with Archie McParland, Ewan Baker, and Toby Cousins all starting in the backline, plus Yuijan Zou and Aiden Kabi on bench.
“We’re all really excited to be back in league action after nearly two years without it,” said Parkin. “Our friendly fixtures last year were great, but it’s even better to get the opportunity to represent Saints in this Academy League.
“We hope that the number of lads who had experience playing last year will have learnt a lot and can lead the way for us during this campaign, while for those younger players making their first steps at this level, this is a huge part of their development and we’re excited to see what they can do.
“We are missing a few players through illness or injury; the likes of Joseph Gaffan (who captained England Under-18s earlier this year), Aston Gradwick-Light and Henry Pollock. Hopefully we’ll see a couple of them back later in the season.
“Thanks, as ever, must go to the lads’ parents, schools and clubs for all their support in developing these young players on and off the pitch.”
Tigers, always strong performers at Under-18s level, will provide a stern opening test but Parkin is relishing the prospect of seeing Saints’ youngsters showcase their talents at the highest level.
He added: “This league is all about putting our young players’ skills under pressure and exposing them to a higher level than they are used to, so they can develop. Winning is obviously important but we’re looking for who can show the potential to make it to the next step.
“Individual skill development is the most important part of our pathway, so we want to see the boys play fast, keep the ball alive, and play to space – if they go out and play with intent, I will be really pleased.”Will Parkin, Academy Coach
“You just have to look at someone like George Hendy, who had an outstanding season at this level last year and showed why he deserved a senior contract, to see what an incredible opportunity these boys have going into this game. George hasn’t looked back and we hope several of these lads will kick on this term and do the same.”
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS U18s vs LEICESTER TIGERS U18s
Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League
Friday 17 December 2021
15 Jody Devine
14 Ethan Thorne
13 Toby Cousins
12 Archie Kean
11 Frankie Sleightholme
10 Ewan Baker
9 Archie McParland
1 Sam Ferrari
2 Craig Wright
3 Nicholas Tarr
4 James Bennett
5 Carn Richards-Farr
6 George Lavender
7 Ted Reid
8 George Patten
16 Yuijan Zou
17 Callum Smyth
18 Dave Bennett
19 Aiden Kabi
20 Levi Wilson
21 Harry Hall
22 Toby Thame
23 Sonny Rodella
Northampton Saints’ Under-18s Fixtures 2021/22
Round 1: Northampton Saints vs Leicester Tigers, Friday 17 December, Bedford Athletic RFC (kick-off: 7pm)
Round 2: Northampton Saints vs Yorkshire Carnegie Thursday 23 December, Bedford Athletic RFC (kick-off: 2pm)
Round 3: Sale Sharks vs Northampton Saints, Sunday 9 January, Heywood Road (kick-off: 2pm)
Round 4: Worcester Warriors vs Northampton Saints, Sunday 16 January, Sixways (kick-off: TBC)
Round 5: Wasps vs Northampton Saints, Saturday 22 January, Aylesbury Rugby Club (kick-off: 2pm)
Round 6: Bye round
Round 7: Northampton Saints vs Newcastle Falcons, Saturday 12 February, cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off: 2pm)
Finals Day: w/e of 26/26 February (kick-off: TBC)