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Saints’ Senior Academy intake 2022/23
James Fitchew Photography
Saints’ Senior Academy intake 2022/23
James Fitchew Photography

Senior Academy to welcome eight young Saints ahead of 2022/23 season

Northampton Saints can today announce that eight talented youngsters are set to join the Club’s Senior Academy set-up for the 2022/23 season.

Joseph Gaffan, Aston Gradwick-Light, Archie Kean, George Patten, Frankie Sleightholme, Nick Tarr, Toby Thame and Craig Wright have all put pen to paper on their first full-time contracts after catching the eye of Saints’ Academy coaches Mark Hopley, Will Parkin, Alex O’Dowd and Tim Grimsey.

The octet all graduate from Northampton’s Under-18 side, which reached the Final of the Premiership’s Academy League this season, and will begin preseason with the Club’s first-team squad from July 1.

“This is the biggest group of young players we’ve ever brought into the Senior Academy and we’re very proud of that, given the hard work everyone has put in over the last few years,” said Academy Coach Will Parkin, who led Saints Under-18s this term.

“With this year group, one thing that has been clear ever since we started working with them as Under-14s, was how driven, hard-working and competitive they are.”

Will Parkin, Academy Coach

“Right throughout the lockdown period, they maximised every opportunity they had to improve themselves, and that has really paid off for them.

“So, their success this season in the Premiership’s Under-18s Academy League, and the number of them now progressing into the Senior Academy, is down to them and the work rate that they have. They’ve thoroughly earned their opportunity!”

George Patten

DOB: 01/10/03
Position: Prop
School: Northampton School for Boys
Clubs: Kettering RFC (to U16), Northampton Old Scouts
Academy entry: Northants Under-13 DPP
Saint #2047 – Club debut vs Saracens, 19 March 2022

George Patten initially entered the Junior Academy with the Northants Under-13 DPP, and has experience playing a multitude of positions in his time with Northampton School for Boys and Northampton Old Scouts – with stints at No.8, flanker, inside centre and fly-half all on his resume.

The 18-year-old become Saint #2047 as he came off the bench to play 74 minutes at Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup a fortnight ago, before making his home debut at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Wednesday evening against Newcastle Falcons.

“When he came into the Academy set-up, George was very effective at running hard and straight, but moving him to centre developed his skills,” said Parkin.

“He even represented Northampton School for Boys at the National Cup Final playing fly-half, before transitioning back into the back row for his Under-18 season. He’s an extremely strong and powerful individual, but thanks to playing in multiple positions he has developed a great understanding of the game.

“In switching to prop, he will obviously have a lot to learn from a scrummaging point of view, but he’s in no better hands to make that transition under the guidance of James Craig and Matt Ferguson – they have a great track record in that space when you look at the likes of Manny Iyogun, who came into the Senior Academy in the back row himself before moving forwards.”

George Patten signing

Frankie Sleightholme

DOB: 09/10/03
Position: Wing
School: Northampton School for Boys
Club: Northampton Old Scouts
Academy entry: Northants Under-13 DPP
Saint #2049 – Club debut vs Saracens, 19 March 2022

Son of former Saint Jon, and brother of current Saint Ollie, Frankie Sleightholme is another winger who fits right into the family mould.

Coming through with Patten from the Northants Under-13 DPP and playing for Northampton School for Boys and Northampton Old Scouts, the 18-year-old became Saint #2049 with two Premiership Rugby Cup appearances off the bench in March 2022 – scoring on his debut in Black, Green and Gold against Saracens.

Parkin said: “Frankie has played in the midfield for his school but played on the wing for Saints’ Under-18s. He’s a very gifted player genetically – his speed and strength are exceptional – so he has a point of difference there.

“But he’s also very effective at the breakdown in the wider channels and his work there was something that stood him apart from most of the other wingers in the Academy League.

“The big thing for me is that his attitude to get better is incredible; he knows he has a lot to do to develop his skills and understanding as a top-level winger, but he’s got the right attitude to get himself there.”

Frankie Sleightholme signing

Archie Kean

DOB: 15/11/03
Position: Centre
School: Royal Hospital School
Club: Colchester
Academy entry: Suffolk Under-13 DPP

Archie Kean has been a key cog in Royal Hospital School’s back-line for several years, featuring in the 10, 12 and 13 jerseys for the first team from Year 11 to Year 13.

He joined Saints’ Junior Academy as an Under-13 player in the Suffolk DPP and played a key role in Northampton’s run to the Final of this season’s Academy League competition.

“Archie has always been involved in the Junior Academy sides as a very skilful player, but this season, he really made the 12 shirt his own in the Under-18s and was one of our most consistent performers in the league,” said Parkin.

“He’s extremely talented in his decision-making, and he’s comfortable playing multiple positions across the back-line – which fits the mould of a Saints centre pretty well!”

Archie Kean signing

Aston Gradwick-Light

DOB: 19/11/03
Position: Hooker
Schools: Royal Hospital School (to Sixth Form), Rugby School
Club: Colchester
Academy entry: Suffolk Under-13 DPP

After joining the Junior Academy as part of the Under-13s DPP in Suffolk, Aston Gradwick-Light transitioned from prop to hooker at Under-16 level under the guidance of Academy Coach James Craig.

A knee injury kept him out of action for some of Saints Under-18s’ Academy League campaign this season, but he featured during the latter stages of the competition to earn himself a playing contract.

Parkin said: “Aston began as an extremely powerful prop, and he’s still very quick for a front rower. After getting injured, he was so diligent and professional around his rehab, which allowed him to get back playing in enough time to show what he can do this year, and he showcased his potential in the games he played.

“Again, he a young player with an incredible work rate and desire to get better as a player. He’s someone we actually have to reign back from training sometimes, as he does so much to try and improve!”

Aston Gradwick-Light signing

Joseph Gaffan

DOB: 09/01/04
Position: Flanker
Schools: Saffron Walden High School (to Sixth Form), Rugby School
Club: Saffron Walden
Academy entry: Cambridgeshire Under-13 DPP
Honours: England U18s

Saffron Walden and Rugby School flanker Joseph Gaffan was ruled out of this season’s Academy League with an ACL injury, but caught the eye with England Under-18s last summer and is targeting a return to fitness in time for Northampton’s preseason period.

“Gaff is an out-and-out poacher at No.7, but he’s also very comfortable on the ball and has played at fly-half and in the centres for his club, which has helped his skillset no end,” said Parkin.

“He’s more of a link player than a bruiser of a flanker, but his speed over the ball was second to none in the Academy League last season when he played as an Under-17. He showed that again for England Under-18s last summer, and he’s now had the operation he needs and will be ready to go for us in preseason.”

Joseph Gaffan signing

Nick Tarr

DOB: 05/03/04
Position: Prop
School: Mark Rutherford School
Club: Bedford Junior Blues
Academy entry: Under-16 PDG
Honours: England U18s

Nick Tarr joined Saints’ PDG at Under-16 level having arrived in England from South Africa, and after transitioning from a No.8/lock to the front row, earned honours with England Under-18s.

The 18-year-old Bedford Junior Blues player will head to the Under-18s Six Nations with the Red Rose next week having impressed at the same level in Black, Green and Gold.

Parkin said: “Nick is a ball-carrying prop, who is powerful and a good offloader too. He’s very skilful but obviously, as with any young prop, when he comes in full-time he will be concentrating very hard on developing his scrummaging.”

Nick Tarr signing

Craig Wright

DOB: 31/03/04
Position: Hooker
Schools: Tabor Academy (to Sixth Form), Felstead School
Club: Braintree
Academy entry: Suffolk Under-13 DPP
Honours: England U18s

Hooker Craig Wright celebrated his 18th birthday in style by signing his first professional contract with Saints the day beforehand.

Co-captain at Felstead School, Wright also played his junior club rugby for Braintree and has earned international honours with England Under-18s after joining the Junior Academy as an Under-13 player in the Suffolk DPP.

“Craig is one of the most energetic people I’ve ever met; he brings such a great attitude to any side he’s a part of, which was really important for us this year,” said Parkin.

“He’s co-captain at Felstead School so he’s a good leader, and he also leads from his energy on the pitch – his contact skills, breakdown and collision work are very good. He’s also probably the best thrower to come through the Academy for a long time, so his set-piece is already very good which is a big point of difference for a young hooker.”

Craig Wright signing

Toby Thame

DOB: 08/11/03
Position: Centre
School: Radley College
Academy entry: Northants Under-13 DPP

Toby Thame, of Radley College, has progressed from Northampton’s Under-13 DPP into the Under-18s side – and caught the eye as he featured heavily at fly-half and centre at that level last term as an Under-17.

The 18-year-old played in this season’s Academy League final for Saints, and Parkin has been most impressed with the centre’s ability to play to space.

He added: “Toby is someone with so much potential as a rugby player – he reminds me a lot of someone like George Hendy, based on his ability to see space and put people into it, which is far beyond his years.

“Physically he’s got some work to do but he has all the skills he needs to flourish coming into a full-time Academy environment.”

Toby Thame signing
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