Academy manager Simon Sinclair believes Northampton Saints’ youth set-up has taken huge strides forward in recent months after bringing three new faces into the leadership team.
The coaching credentials within Saints Academy were already amongst the strongest in the Gallagher Premiership, with head coach Mark Hopley recently selected as one of three England Under-20s coaches for the 2018/19 campaign.
But Sinclair has this season added the likes of Jon Clarke and Lee Dickson to his set-up, with the aim of bringing more young players through the Academy and into Chris Boyd’s first-team.
Former utility back Clarke played a total of 165 games for Saints between 2003 and 2012, scoring 32 tries in his time at Franklin’s Gardens and earning a call-up for England Saxons in the process.
But after stints with Worcester Warriors and Yorkshire Carnegie, Clarke has returned to Franklin’s Gardens on a part-time basis to assist Hopley in coaching the Club’s under-18 backs.
“I jumped at the chance to come back to Saints and work with such a talented group of Academy players that are now coming through this system,” said Clarke.
“Seeing the likes of Ehren Painter, Alex Mitchell and Lewis Ludlam getting more and more game-time with the first team, and Fraser Dingwall make his full debut at Twickenham last weekend, shows that the Saints Academy is performing as it should.
“Everyone within the Academy is working hard to ensure this trend continues and we are confident we have plenty more coming off the production line in the not too distant future.”
Meanwhile Clarke has not been the only new addition to the Academy set-up, with another former Saint in Dickson also returning to Franklin’s Gardens this term.
The 33-year-old – who was capped 18 times by England – made 256 appearances in almost a decade wearing Black, Green and Gold before moving to Bedford Blues in 2017.
And while he is still plying his trade in the Championship, Dickson has been involved with the Club’s young No.9’s running specialist scrum-half sessions.
"Jon [Clarke] has fitted seamlessly into our team of academy coaches alongside Hoppers and Will Parkin; he’s a great fit within our leadership group and the young lads look up to him as a coach."Simon Sinclair, Academy Manager
Senior Academy starlet Connor Tupai has joined the Academy under-18s and under-16s scrum-halves for coaching with Dickson, with the Premiership-winner mentoring the youngsters throughout this season.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with all the changes we’ve made as we are starting to see them bear fruit,” said Sinclair.
“Jon has fitted seamlessly into our team of academy coaches alongside Hoppers and Will Parkin; he’s a great fit within our leadership group and the young lads look up to him as a coach.
“The same can be said of Lee. It’s amazing he’s agreed to return to the Club in this capacity and offer what he can to such a promising group of scrum-halves, who will undoubtedly benefit hugely from his expertise and knowledge of playing at the very highest level.”
Sports Psychologist Tom Hodgins has also been brought in by Sinclair, having worked with the England Rugby 7s and Brighton & Hove Albion football teams.
He has done specific work with the under-18s and under-16s in preseason and stayed on to support the Club’s Senior Academy players since, assisting them in making the transition into playing full-time professional rugby.
Sinclair added: “We wanted to bring in Tom as the demands of both rugby and schoolwork can be massive on these guys and it’s so important to ensure they are receiving the support they need.
“The first-team squad continue to involve themselves heavily within our Academy set-up to boot, with James Craig taking many of the U18s and U16s under his wing, while Harry Mallinder helps the backs with their kicking and Reece Marshall works with our hookers.
“Their support is vital as it shows our guys just what they can achieve with hard work and commitment; I’m certain many of them have what it takes to follow their path into the first team.”
Tickets are still available for Northampton Saints' next home match, with Chris Boyd's men beginning their European Challenge Cup campaign against French giants Clermont Auvergne. Tickets are available from £32 for adults and £14 for juniors. To buy tickets now, please CLICK HERE.