Falcons academy builds for new season

Wednesday 10 August 2022 Written by: Adam

As well as having five players on tour with England Under-18s in South Africa (the most of any club) and five players recently returned from Under-20s Six Nations Summer Series in Italy, the Falcons’ junior sides are already playing matches.

This comes after a summer of activity among the academy staff, with head of academy James Ponton explaining: “Our academy manager Mark Laycock has moved over to become attack coach for the first team, although he has still kept a foot in the academy camp by becoming an academy director.

“It’s almost a silent role for the most part, but he’s been academy manager for so long now and it’s really helpful for me to be get his opinion on things or ask him certain questions from time to time.

“My own job title has changed to head of academy, and our performance analyst Jack Hayes has changed roles to become an academy coach, leading on the Under-16s and assisting PJ Butler with the 17s and 18s.

“Keith Robinson has joined us full-time to cover two roles, as developing player pathway manager and academy coach development officer, which is great news. He had been working for us part-time and also for the Falcons’ Community Foundation, but will be solely focused on the academy now, and then Cheryl Abdul has come in part-time as academy administrator, which has been a great help.

“It allows me to focus more on the coaching side of things, and then Nick Todd has come in as our academy performance analyst as a result of Jack Hayes becoming a coach. Nick has been an intern with us for two years, he did a fantastic job and it’s great that we have been able to bring him in full-time.

“Following Ian Smith’s retirement as our education officer we’ve brought in Matt Carter to that role. Matt is still involved with Newcastle University and knows the whole landscape really well, and he will continue the great work that Ian did for so many years with regards to the players’ educational stuff. Melissa Fothergill is also on board as our psychologist having recently moved from Newcastle University to Northumbria, and I just think we’ve got good people in position.”

Developing their management team as well as their players, Ponton added: “It’s really important that people can see a pathway in our organisation, and the guys here know they can move forward and change roles where it’s appropriate.

“Having someone like Jack moving from analyst to coach is a great example of that, and when you have talented people within your club it’s important you find a way to keep them on board and engaged with the whole thing.

“It’s brilliant that we’ve been able to keep all these people within the Falcons’ set-up, and for all the guys seeing Mark Laycock stepping up to become first-team attack coach, that just backs up everything we’re about in terms of developing our own people.”

With games already underway for the new season, Ponton explained: “We had a couple of Under-17s and 18s training games last week against Yorkshire, played at Durham School, and then on Wednesday and Thursday of this week we have an Under-17s and 18s festival at Malvern with all the other Premiership clubs. The games are 15 minutes each way and we’ll play against a few different clubs, and it’s really useful for us.

“The following week we go to Loughborough to play against Harlequins, which is the first week of the Under-18s league season. Both ourselves and Quins actually have a bye week that round, but what we found last season was that having a bye first up meant we were a bit under-cooked for our first game the week after, so we just thought it would be useful to play a friendly against Harlequins to get ourselves properly ready.

“We then play our first Under-18s league game at home to Wasps on Saturday August 27, which is after a Newcastle Thunder rugby league game, and that will be a great opportunity for supporters to come down and see the lads playing.

“It’s a 6pm kick-off with free entry for anyone wanting to watch our match, and the East Stand bar will be open. We had a great response from the people who attended our matches last season, and then the Under-18s’ programme takes a bit of a break before it starts up again around Christmas.”

Five Falcons players are in South Africa with England Under-18s for a tour which sees them playing three games in eight days, with Ponton saying: “We’ve got Ben Redshaw, Finn Baker and Tom Burton from Sedbergh, Jacob Oliver from Barnard Castle and Isaac Keller from Gosforth Academy.

“Isaac is a loose-head prop, Jake is a hooker, Finn is a lock, Tom is a winger and Ben can play a number of positions. It will be a great experience for them over in South Africa, and I’m sure they’ll go well.”