Northampton Saints Academy manager Simon Sinclair is confident that recent changes made in the development of the Club’s top junior players have been a roaring success.
Sinclair took on his role at the beginning of October, with the aim of helping Saints’ Under-18 players make their transitions into the senior set-up seamless.
The 37-year-old had already been an integral part of the Saints Academy system for over a decade, and so had a clear idea of where changes needed to be made.
And with an increased contact time for the Club’s junior players – which has included sitting in on team meetings, joining the senior players at mealtimes, and benefitting from one-to-one sessions and mentoring for senior players – Sinclair believes Saints have taken a huge stride forwards.
“I’m delighted with how things are going and I’m sure that the changes we’ve made are benefitting everyone involved,” he said.
“We’ve had the likes of Fin Creighton training with all of the first team’s scrum-halves, while Academy graduates Harry Mallinder and James Grayson have been getting involved with coaching the backs, and Dylan Hartley even led a defensive quiz.
“Tom Wood and James Craig have also got stuck in to helping our junior back-rowers, and James in particular has really relished the opportunity to hone his skills as a coach.
“He is now taking on the role of our Under-18 forwards coach having done such a great job, and he is looking at that as a pathway into a career when his playing days are over. This is a good example of a senior player thinking of his next move after rugby.
“All in all, with our junior EAPs players now coming in for three days a week over their school holidays, we have essentially tripled their contact time and that is sure to have a really positive effect.”
Saints’ Under-18s are now benefitting from more medical screening, plus strength and conditioning programmes and video analysis.
But as well as increasing resources on the pitch, Sinclair is keen to ensure his starlets are also thriving off it and has added support with education advisors helping players keep up to date with their schoolwork.
On top of this, Saints have added a sports psychologist to the staff to support both senior academy and junior players, another great addition given a recent media focus on mental health issues within rugby.
Sinclair said: “We are just trying to give these guys as many opportunities as possible to learn about what it takes to be a professional rugby player.
“It also means that our head coach Paul Diggin has the chance to work closer with the players over their holiday periods, bringing them into the professional environment makes the transition to senior rugby more seamless .
“So watch this space, as there are several players coming through at Franklin’s Gardens who could well be the next big thing in English rugby!”
Saints Under-18s drew 31-31 with their Leicester Tigers counterparts just before Christmas in a topsy-turvy spectacle at Loughborough, before travelling to Bedford last week where they narrowly lost out 26-20 to Worcester Warriors.
“The U18 campaign is very much one we are using as a development process,” Sinclair added. “We have put a policy in place that means all our replacements in U18 games will be U17 or U16 players.
“Obviously we are keen to win all our games, but at the same time we want to take opportunities to give our U17s a chance.
“Last weekend, although we lost a close game, we finished the match with ten U17s on the pitch and it’s a great opportunity to challenge the players and see how they react in uncomfortable environments.”
Tickets are still available for Saints' European Champions Cup clash with ASM Clermont Auvergne from the ticket office at Franklin’s Gardens, online by visiting bit.ly/SAI-CLE-EPCR or by calling the Saints Ticket Office on 01604 581000. Prices start at £32 for adults and £14 for juniors.