Northampton Saints can today announce that five talented youngsters are set to join the Club’s Senior Academy set-up for the 2021/22 season.
Geordie Irvine, Emeka Atuanya, Tom Lockett, Matthew Arden and Jake Garside have all put pen to paper on their first full-time contracts after catching the eye of Saints Academy coaches Mark Hopley, Will Parkin, James Craig and Jake Sharp.
The quintet graduate from Northampton’s under-18 side, have all been selected for either England (Irvine, Atuanya, Arden and Garside) or Wales (Lockett) at age-group level, and will begin their work with the Club’s first-team squad from July 1.
GEORDIE IRVINE | BACK ROW
Oundle School’s Geordie Irvine plays in the back row and was scouted by Saints at under-16 level, captaining the side at the prestigious Wellington Festival.
“What makes Geordie stand out is the leadership capability he has shown already,” said Saints DPP Manager, James Craig. “He is a calming influence around our under-18 group and builds really good relationships with other players, so we think he’ll be able to do some great things off the back of that.
“As a player he is really effective in the wider channels, which for our back-row forwards is important. Physically, he’s got great attributes to work with; he’s very quick for such a tall player, and is a really athletic lineout jumper. The pleasing thing is that whenever he’s had a step-up in level to make, he’s thrived and is always looking to learn from every experience presented to him.”
EMEKA ATUANYA | LOCK
Already a dominant physical presence at 6’7” tall, powerful Northampton School for Boys and Northampton Old Scouts lock Emeka Atuanya came through Northampton’s DPP before joining Saints’ under-16 side.
Craig said: “We wanted to sign Emeka based on a combination of his physical potential and rugby ability. He’s got great soft skills, so he’s excellent in attack, and he has the potential to be physically dominant at the senior level.
“He’s already shown us he has the capability to offload well, and when he’s doing his set-piece work he takes information in and learns it very quickly.”
TOM LOCKETT | LOCK
Another lock, 6’8” tall Tom Lockett was scouted from Colchester Royal Grammar School in 2019.
“Tom was in Colchester’s football academy until he was 16,” said Craig. “We picked him up in his under-17 year, so he’s only been with us around 18 months.
“He’s similar to Emeka in that he is athletic with significant physical potential, and his development over the year-and-a-half he’s been in our set-up has been so fast – with no sign of slowing down – that it was a no-brainer for us to want to see how far he can go in the coming years.”
MATTHEW ARDEN | FLY-HALF
Matthew Arden, a fly-half, has been within Saints’ Academy set-up since he was 14 – coming through the ranks at Oundle RFC and Stamford School.
“Matty is one of the very best in terms of his vision and ability to play to space that has come through the Academy,” said Saints’ Junior Academy Development Manager, Will Parkin. “He is exceptional when it comes to putting others into space, which is a huge threat alongside his own skill with the ball in hand, and being able to kick accurately off both feet.
“He speaks to his teammates really well and controls the game from fly-half, so he’s been really impressive to watch in his development so far.”
JAKE GARSIDE | SCRUM-HALF
Scrum-half Jake Garside hails from the Norfolk coastline and previously represented Norwich School and Wymondham RFC, having also joined the Saints Academy set-up initially at under-14 level.
Parkin said: “Jake’s athleticism – specifically his speed – is seriously impressive, so hopefully he can continue to develop in that area. He is a skilful No.9 too, with his delivery and variety of kicking really standing out.
“He’s a tenacious lad which comes through in his play, and while he’s definitely got some bits to work on in terms of his game understanding and the way he controls things, he’s come the whole way through our programme which is testament to his hard work – not least because he and his family have had to contend with a six-hour round trip just to get to training.
“I’m excited to see how good he can be within a full-time environment.”
Duane Ratu Willemsen signs Senior Academy contract
Northampton Saints can also today confirm that English-qualified back row Duane Ratu Willemsen, 20, has signed a Senior Academy contract.
The 6’6”, 128kg forward – cousin of Fiji international Nemani Nadolo – grew up Down Under and holds an Australian passport. He represented New South Wales at age-group level in both rugby union and basketball, and most recently enjoyed a stint in rugby league with the NRL’s St George Illawarra Dragons.
Willemsen landed in Northampton last week, and has now begun training with the first-team squad after observing a quarantine period upon his arrival in the UK.