Northampton Saints can today announce that six talented youngsters are set to join the Club’s Senior Academy set-up for the 2020/21 season.
Callum Burns, Ethan Grayson, Tom Litchfield, Dani Long-Martinez, Edward Prowse, and Kayde Sylvester have all put pen to paper on their first full-time contracts after impressing as part of Saints’ Junior Academy.
All six players graduate from Northampton’s under-18 side and will begin work with the Club’s first-team squad from July 1, provided it has been deemed safe for rugby players to return to training.
The Club’s Head of Academy, Mark Hopley, believes Northampton supporters should be excited about all six new recruits – with their talent evident throughout their time in junior rugby for Saints.
“We’re thrilled to be welcoming these six lads next year, taking our number of contracted players in the Senior Academy group to 15,” he said.
“The critical thing for them learning how to be a professional in this first year; it’s obviously a step up physically from junior and school rugby, but I believe what we have at Saints is a really positive learning environment.”Mark Hopley, Head of Academy
“The players are fully integrated with the senior squad, so they are learning habits, behaviours and skill-sets from some of the best players in the world on a daily basis, which really accelerates their learning.”
Several Senior Academy starlets such as Alex Coles, JJ Tonks, Ollie Sleightholme, and Connor Tupai – among others – have broken into the first team for the men in Black, Green and Gold this term, while recent graduates George Furbank, Alex Mitchell, Fraser Dingwall and Alex Moon all received their first call-ups to the England squad during the Six Nations.
And Hopley is delighted with the results his coaches are producing across the board.
He added: “This has been an extremely beneficial year for the entire Academy – it has been a year where there’s been a lot of change within our set-up.
“The coaches that we’ve brought in have done an exceptional job; Jake Sharp working with some of the older Academy players in the transition space, Alex O’Dowd managing the relationships and playing programmes of our Senior Academy boys, plus James Craig and Will Parkin doing brilliant work with the under-18s group to get those boys really valuable experience and coaching them in how we want to play.
“The coaching group has played a huge part in how well the Academy players have done; they do a brilliant job and work extremely hard to put the Club in as strong a position as possible for the future.”
CALLUM BURNS | HOOKER
Callum Burns, 18, skippered Saints’ under-18s side this season while the Old Northamptonians hooker also led Northampton School for Boys to the semi-finals of the National Schools Cup.
“Callum came into our system really late but he’s someone who has massively benefitted from our relationship with Northampton School for Boys,” said Hopley.
“NSB had a really good Cup run this year, in which he was captain with Ethan Grayson, so he’s a good leader and does the basics really, really well.”
ETHAN GRAYSON | CENTRE
Unlike father Paul and elder brother James, Ethan Grayson lines up at centre and has caught the eye in recent years for Northampton School for Boys and Old Northamptonians.
The 18-year-old was capped by England under-18s in South Africa last year and was selected again by the Red Rose before the Coronavirus pandemic unfortunately saw the side’s summer schedule cancelled.
Hopley added; “Ethan has played a bit of fly-half for his development, but he is a player who definitely prefers the physicality of playing at centre.
“He carries and distributes well, which is what I like in a player, and is a pretty straight-talking lad. We’ve known about his attributes and skill-set for a long time and we are confident he is someone who will thrive in our environment.”
TOM LITCHFIELD | CENTRE
Another centre, Tom Litchfield, has been an ever-present for Northampton’s under-18s this season. The 18-year-old has developed within the Samuel Whitbread Academy system and played junior rugby for Bedford Blues.
“One of our most consistent performers, Tom has got good power in his game but also a lot of softer skills in his offloading ability which makes him exciting to watch,” commented Hopley.
“He’s someone who will do really, really well in a full-time environment.”
DANI LONG-MARTINEZ | WING
A prolific try-scorer in Saints’ under-18s side this season, Dani Long-Martinez hails from the Norfolk coastline and previously represented Norwich School and Holt RFC.
The 18-year-old winger was selected for an England under-18s development camp back in February, having impressed in Black, Green and Gold since Junior Academy Development Manager Will Parkin spotted him 12 months ago during the Rosslyn Park 7s competition.
“Dani’s done brilliantly since coming into our system and has shown immense commitment to get to training, given it’s a five-hour round trip from Norfolk for him,” said Hopley.
“His big strengths are his athleticism – physically he’s very well put together, strong, quick and powerful. He’s still growing too which is exciting.
“In the Academy league, he scored in every game he played in for us, including a hat-trick at Leeds, so he knows how to finish.”
ED PROWSE | TIGHTHEAD PROP
Tighthead prop Ed Prowse was actually released by Northampton Saints Academy 12 months ago and has since plied his trade at Coventry and on-loan at Kettering RFC and Loughborough University.
But the 19-year-old has also impressed on several outings for Northampton Wanderers this term, catching the eye of Hopley again.
“Ed’s a young prop who now has experience of adult rugby, and obviously he’s had opportunities with the Wandies too and done well,” he said. “He’s still very raw but has a lot of potential and for a big guy he’s actually very skilful, which really fits the mould of what we’re looking to bring through in that space.
“He’s not had the easiest route, but he’s gone away and worked hard to better himself, which says a lot about his character.”
KAYDE SYLVESTER | LOCK/BACK-ROW
He might have been unlucky with injuries last season, but Kayde Sylvester’s obvious potential meant he was not overlooked by Northampton’s Academy coaches.
The 18-year-old arrives at Franklin’s Gardens from Bedford School and Cambridge RFC, having first tasted Premiership Rugby Academy League rugby at just 16 years old.
“Kayde performed particularly well even against players two years his senior,” said Hopley. “Last year in preseason he was exceptional, but unfortunately since he’s had a couple of nasty injuries and he’s only just ready to come back.
“His strengths are his aerial skills and his athleticism, plus he’s a really humble individual, and even having seen less of him than some of the other lads, I know he has the attributes to do well with us.”