Newcastle Falcons academy manager Mark Laycock says the relationships between the club and the region’s Universities is in good health as the club welcome the latest addition to join the ranks after being picked up whilst studying.
England students second row Will Witty is one of the latest additions to the Falcons Senior Academy squad this year and his route to the professional game via University is something of a common occurrence in the modern game.
Academy head coach Mark Laycock said: "With rugby being a late specialisation sport there will always be players who start or flourish late and in recent years we’ve seen a large number coming into the professional game from the Higher Education sector.
"We first learned about Will when we saw him trial for the North of England Under-18s then Mark Luffman at Leeds Carnegie Academy told us he was planning on leaving Yorkshire to study Agri-Business at Newcastle University.”
Having made a positive impression in a number of A Team appearances last season Witty began training with the Falcons Senior Academy initially during his free periods, but as the season wore on his University bent over backwards to enable the student to keep his rugby ambitions alive.
Laycock explained: “I remember when Will played for us in the LV= Cup against Saracens last January, Newcastle University arranged for him to change the date of some of his exams so that he could concentrate on the match.
“Will has now signed a full-time contract with the club meaning his education has had to go on hold briefly, but I’m sure we will see a massive difference in his rate of progression as a result."
In addition to Will, two recent Durham University graduates are now in the Falcons Senior Academy in the shape of second/back row Sean Robinson and full back Simon Hammersley who both completed their degrees before moving into the professional game.
Meanwhile back row Brian Tuilagi, who has joined the club from Leicester Tigers, will begin a part-time degree at Northumbria University this year which will be tailored to give him the best chance of achieving both his academic and sporting goals.
Laycock explained: "I would like to think we have a strong relationship with the three main rugby playing universities in the region and over the years all three have had students in their ranks that now play regularly for the Falcons first team. Whether its Alex Tait (Newcastle), Mark Wilson (Northumbria) or Rob Vickers (Durham), all three universities have produced top quality players and will continue to do so in the future.”