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U18s: Craig delighted with improvement shown so far

Academy coach James Craig said that while results have not been going Northampton Saints’ way, he was impressed with what he has seen of the U18s so far this season.

Saints took to Franklin’s Gardens for the first time last weekend but were edged out by a strong Sale Sharks side, with the final scoreline sitting 24-37 in Sale’s favour. 

But Craig insisted that while the result was disappointing it gave the side a good idea of how to keep improving. 

"The purpose of the Academy is more about development and the bigger picture of us wanting all of the lads to be in a better place when they finish at U18 level."

James Craig, Academy Coach

“It was disappointing to lose to Sale, but it actually gave us a pretty decent idea of where we sit as a team,” said Craig. 

“We played ok against Leicester, we played well against Yorkshire but against a Sale team who are probably the best team we’ve played so far we came up short.

“I thought we started the game pretty well but what was a good learning for us as a coaching group was that when the intensity of the game started to rise, and the lads started to get tired, that’s when we started to make mistakes. So that’s for us, as coaches, to try to replicate those conditions in training a bit more. 

“But there was definitely a load of good stuff in there too and some really good pieces of individual play but as a team we didn’t quite perform as well as we’d have liked. Obviously though, we get a chance this weekend to learn a few lessons and try to put things right against what is a pretty decent side in Worcester.”

And with three games remaining in the Premiership Rugby U18s League, Craig has enjoyed seeing some of Saints’ youngsters put their hands up over the last few weeks, highlighting the importance of development at age-group level.

“It was good to see some of the lads put their hand up and prove they can appear at this level – from our point of view that’s pleasing. 

“I don’t think anyone in sport goes into a game not wanting to win, but for us the purpose of the Academy is more about development and the bigger picture of us wanting all of the lads to be in a better place when they finish at U18 level.

“The nature of an Academy is that not only are we developing the players on the pitch but we’re developing as coaches off it too and I think we’ve got a good balance of that at the moment. 

“You can either do what’s best for winning right now or we can do what’s best for developing the lads’ long-term development.

“We could go into every game with a quite conservative game plan but that would be completely against the ethos of what [Chris] Boydy and the other coaches are trying to run through the club. We might end up being a bit more successful, but we’d much rather be in-line with the Saints way.

“Even though results haven’t necessarily been going the way we’d like, we’re happy with the improvements the lads are starting to show as a team and the performances some of the individuals are starting to put in. 

“It’s a real pleasure working with this group at the moment.”

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