Saints’ Under-16s proved once again the future looks bright at Franklin’s Gardens with several superb performances at the Wellington Festival in Berkshire last week.
Around 420 players from 14 regional academies around the country took part in the annual week-long programme last week at Wellington College – a rite of passage for the next generation of rugby stars which aims to develop players and coaches both on and off the pitch.
Northampton’s Under-16 side took on Exeter, Bath and Yorkshire in 30-minute contests on Tuesday, before locking horns with Exeter again over 70 minutes on Saturday.
And while his side produced four outstanding performances to emerge with four victories, Saints Junior Academy Manager Will Parkin insists the players’ all-round development over the week was the true success story from the festival.
“The Wellington Festival is not just about rugby on the pitch,” he said. “It is almost like a boot camp to prepare these potential stars for life as a professional rugby player – and I’m very proud of what they achieved.
“It’s all about developing off the pitch, as well as on it, and as a group the Saints Academy really bonded over the course of the week. Personalities start to come out in the dressing room as the boys grow in confidence.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to develop these guys ahead of their entry into the Under-17 and Under-18 programme, and this experience facilitates their transition into our Senior Academy set-up.
“A number of our Under-15 players were also included in our ranks to test their skills at a higher level of rugby – and it’s safe to say they did not look out of place.
“With their exams upcoming the players’ schoolwork is not overlooked, and as well as the education sessions put on by the RFU, our squad was given plenty of time off and revision blocks to ensure they are properly prepared for that too.”
Over the course of the week, the Under-16 squad enjoyed seminars put on by the RFU on psychology, nutrition, anti-doping and social media to prepare them for life as a professional player.
England head coach Eddie Jones visited on Wednesday for a Q&A session, while the likes of Simon Amor and Wayne Barnes also spoke about alternative routes into the game.
On the field, Saints’ youngsters excelled; with Harry Williams, Jarno Longaretti, Mike Phillips, Tom Ball, Xavier Cranwell, Kayde Sylvester, Josh Hilton, Josh Cillia, Ethan Wright, Walter Watson, and Ryan Apps all crossing the whitewash to help the side to a flawless four wins.
Academy Manager Simon Sinclair added: “All our coaches and support staff deserve huge thanks for their efforts, not only last week but over the last three years of working with this group of players.
“Rugby coaches Barry Burgess, Edd Rhodes, and Tim Grimsey were down as well as Sophie McGarity from the club’s medical team and S&C coach Matt Stagg, but Will Parkin deserves a special mention for his work so far with this group.
“We’re very confident a number of these players have what it takes to play at the very highest level in future.”