On Sunday the U18 Academy League Finals head to Worcester Warriors’ Sixways Stadium.
Since early December the fourteen regional academy sides, the twelve Gallagher Premiership Clubs plus Newcastle Falcons and Yorkshire Carnegie from the Greene King IPA Championship, have been competing in the seven round U18 Academy League.
The league was split into two conferences of seven, north and south, and the top three sides from each conference now face their counterparts from the opposing conference at Finals Day, meaning that third in the north faces third in the south for 5th place, the two second placed sides meet for the third place play off, and the top side from each conference meet in the U18 Academy League final.
U18 Academy League Final – Leicester Tigers v London Irish, 4pm
This year the final sees back to back champions Leicester Tigers up against 2016 champions London Irish in a compelling looking final, the two each won five and lost one of their six games.
Speaking ahead of the game Tigers Head Coach Matt Smith said:
“We have progressed well, week on week this season and Sunday’s final is a reward for the efforts of this squad from summer through until now, but, like all Tigers teams, the job is not done by just making the final, we are going there to win.”
“I am really proud of these young men and their commitment to each other and the club during this campaign, they have earned this opportunity. I have enjoyed the first year in my role and – most of all – because of the way the squad have committed to what we have asked of them. I am proud to be a part of this group with them and excited for Sunday’s final.”
Among those selected for this hat-trick chasing fixture for Leicester Tigers are England U18 squad men Jack Rowntree (Leicester Grammar), Archie Vanes (Brooksby Melton College), and Oakham’s Kit Smith, all three in a tough looking pack.
Joining them are some of the recently named England U17 squad, Stamford loosehead Seb Smith, and his schoolmates Cormac Calnan at outside centre and Phil Tandoh on the bench, where he is joined by Oakham’s Henry Joule, while Brooksby Melton College’s Jake Sterland starts on the wing.
London Irish’s Academy Manager, Patrick O’Grady, meanwhile spoke of his excitement, saying: “Preparations for the final have been going well and the squad is excited to get going on Sunday. The players and academy staff have worked very hard all season, so it’s great to recognise this with an appearance in the final.”
The Exiles have also got plenty of young internationals in their lineup, including recent England U18 call ups in the front row, St Paul’s Catholic College’s Tarek Haffar, and Whitgift hooker Joseph Vajner, who captains the side on Sunday. Fellow England U18 squad member Marcus Rhodes of Wellington College is at number 8, with St Paul’s Catholic College’s Rory Morgan at scrum half and the experience Millfield star Will Joseph at outside centre.
Joining them are the recently selected England U17 stars, right wing Henry Arundell from Harrow and Wellington College fly half Monty Bradbury, while on the bench a further U17 international call up awaits, Hartpury College prop Mikey Summerfield.
3rd Place Play-Off – Worcester Warriors v Saracens, 12pm
Former Scotland fly half Gordon Ross is an academy coach at Worcester Warriors, and ahead of the game he said:
“A lot of the lads have been together for a good few years now and Finals Day is reward for all their hard work, I think this year the guys have developed really well, and they understand the game a bit better – there was never any doubt over the lads’ work ethic last year. I just think they weren’t quite as physically developed, and off the pitch they have since done a lot of work in the gym.”
“Over the past few years Ollie Lawrence, Ted Hill, Will Butler and Jamie Shillcock have all come through the ranks here and they’ve all moved on to bigger and better things. It’s a fantastic opportunity for these youngsters to showcase what they can do.”
Ross’ side is skippered by England U18 centre Seb Atkinson of Bromsgrove School, and he forms a core spine of the team that is all in the England U18 squad, with Warwick fly half Fin Smith, and Bromsgrove scrum half Ollie Wynn, the only man in that core missing being Warwick fly half Jack Forsythe.
Worcester also have four England U17 squad members in their matchday squad, with Fin Thomas of Stourport High School at openside, and his schoolmate Tobi Wilson on the left wing, while Ellesmere College’s Ben Rowley is at tighthead. King Henry VIII Coventry’s Tom Miles is on the bench.
Up against Worcester are 2015 U18 Academy League champions, Saracens. Their Academy Manager Mike Hynard spoke passionately ahead of Finals Day, saying:
“I’m really pleased this group have qualified for Academy Finals Day, the standard in the South Conference was very high this season. This squad worked incredibly hard in pre-season and formed very close friendships, they are a really tight group. Whilst our performances have not had the consistency we would have liked, we have proved to be a team that works really hard for each other and is tough to beat.”
“We are looking forward to the players performing on Sunday, some for one last time in a Saracens U18 shirt, and demonstrating how good a player they are. I’m also really pleased for all the staff involved with this U18 group, the performance staff have worked incredibly hard to get these players fit for this U18 Academy League and deserve huge praise for the excellent physical condition these boys are in. We are looking forward to watching the boys put in a ‘Saracens’ performance on Sunday in what is the showpiece event for U18 Academy rugby”.
The Saracens side contains five of the England U18 squad, Felsted’s Sam Bryan is at scrum half, with schoolmate Tristan Smith at loosehead, and fellow Felsted man Obinna Nkwocha is on the bench. Linking up with them are Berkhamsted number 8 Toby Knight and Sutton Valence outside centre Brandon Jackson.
Joining those five are a further four players selected to the recent England U17 group, Warford Grammar full back Tobias Elliot, Oaklands College tighthead Zack Hill, and Ravens Wood second row Kaden Pearce-Paul in the starting lineup, with Haileybury’s Ehimen Osebor on the bench.
5th Place Play-Off – Newcastle Falcons v Bristol Bears, 2pm
Newcastle claimed third spot in the northern conference and will face Bristol Bears in the 5th place play off, although oddly it will take place after the 3rd place game. Ahead of the game their academy coach James Ponton said:
“We set a target at the start of the season to get to the finals day, and it’s great that we have been able to achieve that. We finished third in the Northern Conference after winning four of our six games, and only missed out on second place by a single try over the course of the season. We have played some good rugby over the six games and we have some great talent coming through, so it’s an exciting opportunity to be able to showcase that down at Worcester on Sunday.”
Newcastle are captained by England U18 and RGS Newcastle tighthead Phil Brantingham, and his loosehead will be his schoolmate and England U17 squad member Mark Dormer. Meanwhile on the left wing is fellow England U18 player Matty Ward of Gosforth Academy, while Barnard Castle’s Guy Pepper is on the openside flank, Pepper is part of the England U17 training group, as is inside centre Ewan Greenlaw of Durham School.
Bristol Bears’ Senior Academy Manager Gethin Watts meanwhile said:
“It’s a great reward for everyone who has contributed to the efforts so far this season, that includes players, schools, clubs and especially the parents and guardians who have supported the players on their journey. We have also stressed that this is only part of the journey but it certainly increases the expectation and raises the bar for all involved in future seasons.”
His side are without England U18 star Deago Bailey of SGS Filton College, but do boast an all England U18 second row pairing of Bailey’s schoolmate Charlie Rice and Bristol Grammar School’s George Taylor. Meanwhile in the front row is fellow England U18 and SGS Filton College man Andrew Turner, with Colston’s England U18 fly half Tom Wilstead also in the side. Outside of Wilstead in the 12 shirt is his schoolmate Dylan Power, who is a part of the England U17 group.
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U18 Academy League Finals Day Fixtures – Sixways Stadium, Worcester:
Worcester Warriors v Saracens – 3rd place play-off, 12pm
Newcastle Falcons v Bristol Bears – 5th place play-off, 2pm
Leicester Tigers v London Irish – U18 Academy League Final, 4pm
15 Ollie Smith (Denstone College), 14 Josh Lugsden (Brooksby Melton College), 13 Cormac Calnan (Stamford), 12 Matt Potts (Leicester GS), 11 Jake Sterland (Brooksby Melton College), 10 Charlie Titcombe (Oakham), 9 Sam Edwards (Brooksby Melton College), 1 Seb Smith (Stamford), 2 Archie Vanes (Brooksby Melton College), 3 Jack Rowntree (Leicester GS), 4 Callum Oakden (Brooksby Melton College), 5 Bobby Singer (Stamford), 6 Kit Smith (Oakham), 7 Jordan Tebbatt (Brooksby Melton College), 8 Ben Muncaster (Rugby).
Replacements: 16 Joe Plunkett (Langley), 17 Lynx Noymey (Ellesmere College), 18 Dan Clements (Brooksby Melton College), 19 Phil Tandoh (Stamford), 20 Noah Leo (Brooksby Melton College), 21 Jed Gelderbloom (Oakham), 22 Billy Hull (Rugby), 23 Henry Joule (Oakham).
15 Ben Fitzgerald, 14 Henry Arundell, 13 Will Joseph, 12 Matt Barrett, 11 Finley Brown, 10 Monty Bradbury, 9 Rory Morgan, 1 Tarek Haffar, 2 Joseph Vajner (c), 3 Joe Keohane, 4 Josh Taylor, 5 Sam Harding, 6 Lucas Brooke, 7 George Davis, 8 Marcus Rhodes.
Replacements: 16 Freddie Fearnley, 17 Mikey Summerfield, 18 Ethan Pawadyira, 19 Edwin Zaimovic, 20 Oscar Jansen, 21 Dan Ormond, 22 Niall McGann, 23 Alexander Harmes.
15 James Mann (RGS Worcester), 14 Alex Evans (Alcester GS), 13 Harry Spencer (Warwick), 12 Seb Atkinson (Bromsgrove, captain), 11 Tobi Wilson (Stourport HS), 10 Fin Smith (Warwick), 9 Ollie Wynn (Bromsgrove), 1 Mitch Reeve (Solihull), 2 Joe Richardson (King’s Worcester), 3 Ben Rowley (Ellesmere College), 4 Adam Lane (Bromsgrove), 5 Charlie Hagen (Bishop of Hereford Bluecoat), 6 Ben Murphy (KES Five Ways), 7 Finlay Thomas (Stourport HS), 8 Jack Lewis (Stourport HS)
Replacements: 16 Jon Lilley (Stourport HS), 17 Josh Marsden (Malvern College), 18 Sam Hayler (Stourport HS), 19 Tom Miles (King Henry VIII, Coventry), 20 Fin Morgan (Bromsgrove), 21 Josh Harrison (Kinver HS).
15 Tobias Elliott, 14 Tom Mills, 13 Brandon Jackson, 12 Josh Robson-Groom, 11 Francis Moore, 10 Alex Cahill, 9 Sam Bryan, 1 Tristan Smith, 2 Samson Adejimi, 3 Zack Hill, 4 Kaden Pearce-Paul, 5 Alex Wardell, 6 Matt Cannon, 7 Toby Ponsford, 8 Toby Knight.
Replacements: 16 Ehimen Osbor, 17 Alfie Goater, 18 Terrell harry, 19 Obinna Nkwocha, 20 Nathan Bispham, 21 Charles Favell, 22 Luc McNally-Drew, 23 Wilson Ijeh.
15 Tom Robinson, 14 Lewis Robertson, 13 Thomas Moore, 12 Ewan Greenlaw, 11 Matty Ward, 10 James Blackett, 9 Ben Douglas, 1 Mark Dormer, 2 Owen Chaplin, 3 Phil Brantingham (c), 4 Ben Robson, 5 Louis Peacock, 6 Rhys Tait, 7 Guy Pepper, 8 Owen Cassallo.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Fletcher, 17 Matty Siddle, 18 Drew Thompson, 19 Innes Hill, 20 Marcus Tiffen, 21 James Naylor, 22 Nathan Gough, 23 Ollie Spencer.
15 Chay Mullins (SGS Filton College), 14 Benjy Joseland (Clifton College), 13 Harry Rowson (Bristol GS), 12 Dylan Power (Colston’s), 11 Ollie Holliday (Hartpury College), 10 Tom Wilstead (Colston’s), 9 Calaghan Smith (Millfield), 1 Andrew Turner (SGS Filton College), 2 Jalen Curry (SGS Filton College), 3 Aaron Thompson (SGS Filton College), 4 George Taylor (Bristol GS), 5 Charlie Rice (SGS Filton College), 6 Fergus Dick (Bristol GS), 7 Jamie Collier (SGS Filton College, captain), 8 MacEnzie Duncan (SGS Filton College).
Replacements: 16 Tom Sims (SGS Filton College), 17 George Perry (SGS Filton College), 18 Soloman Taufa (SGS Filton College), 19 Mason Hughes (Hartpury College), 20 Angus Judkins (Taunton), 21 Jac Lloyd (Clifton College), 22 Ru Schofield (Wellington School).
2019 – Leicester Tigers
2018 – Leicester Tigers
2017 – Harlequins
2016 – London Irish
2015 – Saracens
2014 – Northampton Saints
U18 Academy League – Final Conference Tables:
U18 Academy League – Conference Stage Results:
Leicester Tigers 25-12 Northampton Saints
Wasps 54-12 Yorkshire Carnegie
Sale Sharks 22-20 Worcester Warriors
Saracens 31-19 Exeter Chiefs
Bristol Bears 18-17 Bath
Gloucester 10-22 London Irish
Newcastle Falcons 42-24 Wasps
Yorkshire Carnegie 28-50 Northampton Saints
Sale Sharks 18-27 Leicester Tigers
Gloucester 36-25 Bristol Bears
London Irish 41-31 Harlequins
Bath 26-14 Saracens
Worcester Warriors 33-21 Wasps
Leicester Tigers 19-0 Newcastle Falcons
Northampton Saints 24-37 Sale Sharks
Harlequins 41-15 Gloucester
London Irish 28-34 Saracens
Exeter Chiefs 7-22 Bath
Yorkshire Carnegie 17-28 Leicester Tigers
Northampton Saints 19-36 Worcester
Newcastle Falcons 29-22 Sale Sharks
London Irish 29-17 Bath
Harlequins 21-12 Exeter Chiefs
Saracens 29-12 Bristol Bears
Northampton Saints 15-52 Wasps
Worcester Warriors 22-19 Newcastle Falcons
Sale Sharks 19-14 Yorkshire Carnegie
Bristol Bears 19-46 London Irish
Gloucester 5-29 Exeter Chiefs
Bath 40-36 Harlequins
Leicester Tigers 31-22 Worcester Warriors
Yorkshire Carnegie 19-40 Newcastle Falcons
Wasps 31-21 Sale Sharks
Exeter Chiefs 19-47 London Irish
Bristol Bears 32-21 Harlequins
Saracens 21-24 Gloucester
Wasps 34-20 Leicester Tigers
Newcastle Falcons 64-7 Northampton Saints
Worcester Warriors 65-5 Yorkshire Carnegie
Harlequins 19-29 Saracens
Bath 19-31 Gloucester
Exeter Chiefs 26-43 Bristol Bears