The U18 Academy League Finals take place on Sunday at Allianz Park, with Leicester Tigers hoping to retain their title.
Three games take place, the 5th place play off, the 3rd place play off, and the main final. It features top 3 finishers from the season’s two conferences, Northern and Southern, with each side facing their corresponding finisher from the other conference.
Remarkably, the final is between the same two sides as in last year’s final. Leicester Tigers represent the Northern Conference while Gloucester, after a tough battle, represent the Southern Conference. With Wasps and Bath meeting for third place, Sale Sharks and Harlequins for 5th.
Leicester Tigers were outstanding on that day last year, winning 43-21. There are plenty of survivors from that game in the Gloucester ranks though, so there will be plenty of players out to avenge that.
Nevertheless the major point of finals day will be focusing on the here are now. Playing with creativity as we saw so memorably at the same time last year with forwards cross-kicking, among other things.
There is certainly no doubt among the England U18 staff that these are the two outstanding academies again this year, between the two they contribute 15 of the 44 players selected in the recent England U18 Development Camp squad.
The other four sides also contribute plenty to that squad, Bath and Harlequins with five players each, Wasps and Sale with four each.
Surprisingly Bath are the only side of the six that were not here last year. Wasps faced Saracens in last year’s 3rd place game, losing 21-19, they will hope to go one better against Bath this year. Sale Sharks and Harlequins meanwhile met last year in the 5th place game, again this was a narrow win for the South, Quins winning 34-29.
There are a number of head to heads from that England U18 squad in the final, Denstone College’s Joe Browning on the left wing for Tigers opposite Cheltenham College’s Louis Hillman-Cooer on the right for Gloucester, Woodhouse Grove’s James Whitcombe is at looshead for Leicester, up against tighthead Jenson Boughton for Gloucester, while both second rows are all England pairings, George Martin and Tom Manz for Leicester and Archie Benson and Joe Howard for Gloucester.
The reality is though that while international places and academy silverware are at stake, the mantra on Sunday will be that of skills, showing what each team and each individual within that team can do, and with that we should see three truly outstanding games of rugby.
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U18 Academy League Finals Day Fixtures (all at Allianz Park, Sunday 17th February)
Final – Leicester Tigers v Gloucester (4pm)
3rd/4th Place – Wasps v Bath (12pm)
5th/6th Place – Sale Sharks v Harlequins (2pm)
O Freddie Steward (Norwich), N Leo Gilliland (Brooksby Melton College), M Ronnie Du Randt (Denstone College), L Sam Costelow (Oakham), K Joe Browning (Denstone College), J Harry Glynn (Oakham), I Jack Van Poortvliet (Oakham), A James Whitcombe (Woodhouse Grove), B Archie Vanes (Brooksby Melton College), C Rob Hardwick (Rugby), D George Martin (Brooksby Melton College), E Tom Manz (Denstone College), F Emeka Ilione (Rugby), H Samuel Eveleigh (Leicester GS, captain), G Ollie Ashworth (Langley).
Replacements: P Shaun Allsopp (Stamford), Q Alex Maxwell (Brooksby Melton College), R Jack Rowntree (Leicester GS), S Will Backhouse (Brooksby Melton College), T Kit Smith (Oakham), U Jonny Law (Rugby), V Matt Potts (Leicester GS), W Ollie Smith (Denstone College).
15 Brooke Turner, 14 Louis Hillman-Cooper, 13 Isaac Marsh, 12 Tommy Mathews, 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 George Barton, 9 Stephen Varney, 1 Harry Fry, 2 Ethan Hunt, 3 Jenson Boughton, 4 Archie Benson, 5 Joe Howard (captain), 6 Jack Clement, 7 Josh Gray, 8 Harry Taylor.
Replacements: 16 Leyton Chambers, 17 Marcus Reading, 18 Harry Daynes, 19 Freddie Thomas, 20 Seb Blake, 21 Matty Jones, 22 Oli Parmar, 23 Max Fletcher.
15 Tom Bacon, 14 Simone Panella, 13 Toby Baldwin, 12 Ricky Ma’asi, 11 Jude Williams, 10 Charlie Atkinson, 9 Henry Mortimer, 1 Zac Nearchou, 2 Alfie Barbeary, 3 Jordan Cordice, 4 Anjo Ademuwagun, 5 Mario Pichardie, 6 Alfred Mawdsley, 7 Dan Eckersley, 8 James Tunney (captain).
Replacements: 16 Alex Pleasants, 17 James Coombs, 18 Alex Sabin, 19 Nik Jakobsen, 20 Greg Fisilau, 21 Ollie Monye, 22 Evan Mitchell, 23 Tane Dunn.
15 George Worboys, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 13 Ruben Moxham, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Felix Connolly, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Will Cook, 1 Jamie Guest, 2 Bradley Law, 3 Archie Griffin, 4 Ewan Richards (captain), 5 Ethan Staddon, 6 Will Hendy, 7 Xavier Hastings, 8 Nahum Merigan.
Replacements: 16 John Stewart, 17 Archie Alexander, 18 Jack Bertinet, 19 Frankie Read, 20 Ed Wallrock, 21 Ayden Chenoweth, 22 Tom Carr-Smith, 23 Nat Arnold.
15 Cal Grieve, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Dan Kelly, 12 Elliot Gourlay, 11 Oli Melville, 10 Tom Curtis, 9 Raffi Quirke, 1 Harry Harding, 2 Ethan Caine, 3 James Harper, 4 Ollie Leatherbarrow, 5 Ewan Murphy, 6 Joe Johnson, 7 John Bailey, 8 Josh Hadland.
Replacements: 16 Ben Patchett, 17 Tom Clarke, 18 Corey Bowker, 19 Ciaran Sutcliffe, 20 Sam Higginson, 21 Will Davies, 22 Jacob Ainscough, 23 Cam Melville, 24 Nye Thomas.
15 Louis Lynagh (Hampton), 14 Oscar Beard (Cranleigh), 13 Hayden Hyde (Cranleigh), 12 Lennox Anyanwu (Christ’s Hospital), 11 Tom Allen (Epsom College), 10 Luc Smith (Brighton College), 9 Mikel Davies (Dulwich College), 1 Jonathan Salomon (Caterham), 2 Sam Riley (St George’s College, Weybridge, captain), 3 Fin Baxter (Wellington College), 4 Elliott Powell (Brighton College), 5 Enzo Croy (Dulwich College), 6 Harry Dugmore (Whitgift), 7 Jack Reid (Wellington College), 8 Will Trenholm (Cranleigh).
Replacements:16 Dylan Thomas (Hurstpierpoint College), 17 Theo Bevaqua (Eastbourne College), 18 Aristot Salomon (Whitgift), 19 Jack Ryder (Regis), 20 Ted Johnson (Wellington College), 21 Jake Williams (Harrodian), 22 Jack Potter (St John’s, Leatherhead), 23 James Bourton (Hurstpierpoint College).
U18 Academy League Round 7 Results:
Northampton Saints 5-17 Yorkshire Carnegie
Wasps 62-33 Newcastle Falcons
Worcester Warriors 7-43 Sale Sharks
Bath 19-7 London Irish
Bristol Bears 19-52 Saracens
Exeter Chiefs 21-41 Gloucester