Academy prepares for match action

Tuesday 03 August 2021 Written by: Adam

Despite last season’s Covid disruption the Falcons’ Under-18s managed an impressive run of results during 2020-21, ending their season with a 43-29 home win over Leicester Tigers on May 31.

Back up and running for 2021-22, academy head coach James Ponton said: “We normally have an RFU festival at Malvern College every summer with all the other Premiership clubs, which obviously for the past couple of seasons hasn’t happened.

“That’s normally at Under-16s and 18s, but because the Under-17s age group had missed so much they’ve decided to make it 17s and 18s this year. It’s meant we’ve had to go out and get a larger group of players because normally we’d just combine our 17s and 18s into one team, but we’ve got some new players in to have a look at.

“Our games are due to be against Wasps, London Irish and Gloucester, which is another positive aspect to it in that we wouldn’t normally get to play against those clubs in our regular Under-18s league.

“The Malvern festival takes place on Tuesday August 10 and Wednesday August 11, and it’s a good opportunity for the lads coming in, just as it is for us as coaches to see them close up.

“Leading up to that we’ve got a fixture against Leicester Tigers this Friday down at their Oval Park training ground, which will be two halves of 30 minutes.

“It’s just a bit of a rotation scenario to see those guys playing in our environment before they all head back to school in September, and then we’ll be back into our Under-18s league again around the middle of December.”

As with most walks of life there have been major limitations placed on the academy during the pandemic – obstacles that Ponton and his team have strived to overcome.

“From an academy point of view we’ve worked really hard to keep things going,” he said.

“We’ve got an Under-16s squad, which most academies in the country don’t have, and we’ve been able to keep guys coming in to work with us.

“One difficult thing has been not having the ability to go out and watch games, because there haven’t been games to watch, but we’ve got a group of players and I’d expect there to be some fluid movement in and out of the academy as we get a closer look at some of these guys within our environment.”

The Falcons’ homegrown ethos remains central to their plans right up to the first team squad, with Ponton stating: “We’ve had six guys from our junior academy pushing into the senior academy for this season, which means training full-time with the first team and being in that mix for selection.

“On top of that we’ve got existing senior academy players pushing hard for first team places, and senior academy guys graduating on to first team contracts.

“The first team squad have only recruited a very small number of players from other clubs this summer, which again just reinforces their faith in the quality of lads we’re pushing through the system here, and as an academy coach that’s really heartening to see.

“We’ve had a number of former academy players playing for the full England side over the summer, which again is really pleasing, and there’s a lot of positivity around the whole academy set-up at the moment.”