Ponton previews Under-18s season

Wednesday 22 December 2021 Written by: Adam

Having seen last season’s league cancelled and replaced with a number of friendlies, the return to a structured league is welcome news for Ponton, whose squad have been working hard in training throughout the pandemic.

The former back-row forward said: “I’ve got my fingers crossed for this season, because if that ends up getting cancelled then you’ll have a group of boys in academies who’ve played hardly any rugby for two years, and had none of the experience that goes with it.

“From a training perspective during the whole pandemic I think we’ve trained more than any other club, and the feedback from the parents and junior coaches has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone has bought into it, and with so many things being cancelled I think they were just grateful that they were able to get out and train due to the elite sporting exemptions. I think it’s kept the kids sane, having that little bit of normality, and fair play to the academy staff for being hugely adaptable to all the challenges they’ve overcome.

“We’ve just had to come into the club once everybody else has left, which has meant training at some unusual times like Friday nights, but it’s been an incredible effort from everyone. I would definitely include the parents and guardians in that, because in most cases they’re the ones having to bring the kids in at all hours, and we’re very thankful for the lengths people have gone to to help us reach this point.”

Revealing some of the measures needed to keep the show on the road as the Under-18s side nears the big kick-off, Ponton said: “We’re having to do lateral flow testing every time we train or play as well as filling in our online health screening, and then we’ve had other obstacles like having to cancel the team bus down to Wasps this week.

“Luckily at this time of year a lot of the parents are off work and are able to drive their kids down for the game, because if we’d had a positive case on the bus then you’re basically wiping out a coach-load of people. It’s obviously not ideal from a team-building and preparation point of view, but I think in the current circumstances we’re just happy to have any games going ahead.

“Last season’s Under-18s league got cancelled but we did manage to play four friendly matches against teams towards the northern end of the country, and it was good to at least have something for the lads.”

Focused firmly on the future, he said: “On paper, we’ve got a really strong squad this season.

“We’ll have had 11 of our players involved with England Under-17s and 18s training at some point, but you just never know until you get on the field in a proper match scenario. With having such a long gap between games it’s hard to get that consistency in terms of your performance and knowing what the other academies are bringing, so I guess we’ll see once we get into the games.

“We had a bye in last weekend’s first round so we’ve got a bit of video footage to go on, but it’s hard to know how much you can take from that. Wasps had a big win over Yorkshire in round one but it was played in atrocious weather, so I don’t know if we can read a lot into that game.”

Giving an idea on what to expect from the crop of 2021-22, Ponton said: “We always pride ourselves on being a skilful side, and our brand is more about moving the ball.

“Obviously you have to combine that with physicality and go-forward, especially against the likes of a Leicester Tigers, who play the same way their first team do. We’ve got some good play-makers and a lot of pace, though, and it should make for a good brand of rugby.”

With so many academy graduates in Newcastle Falcons’ first team squad and a number of those progressing on to full international honours, Ponton spoke of his pride at the ongoing conveyor belt of talent from the North East and Cumbria.

“The pathway is complete all the way through from our academy into the first team, and this is the first year where we’ve had people representing every England age-group level right up to the senior international side,” he said.

“Seeing the likes of Jamie Blamire, Adam Radwan and Callum Chick make the journey through our academy into the England side – and then Trevor Davison as someone who came to us later through the associate route – the talent is definitely there.

“We’ve got a load of great kids working their way up that pathway, and the responsibility falls to us as coaches to nurture them through.”

**Newcastle Falcons U18s team to face Wasps U18s (Thursday, 3pm, Broadstreet RFC)**

15 Ben Redshaw, 14 Jake Metcalfe, 13 Jez Civil, 12 Will Hindle, 11 Oz Roberts, 10 Harry Williams, 9 Ben Douglas; 1 Micky Rewcastle, 2 Charlie Smith, 3 Morgan Hall, 4 Finn Baker, 5 Luke Coulston, 6 Braemar Murray, 7 Will Gibbons, 8 Ewan Venerus.

**Replacements:** 16 Jacob Oliver, 17 Isaac Keller, 18 Sam Birkbeck, 19 Ayden Knott, 20 Zach Oldham, 21 Freddie Nickalls, 22 Will Roue, 23 Toby Ferguson.

**Newcastle Falcons Under-18s fixtures**

**Thu Dec 23:** Wasps (away, 3pm, Broadstreet RFC)

**Sat Jan 8:** Leicester Tigers (home, 5.15pm, Kingston Park Stadium)

**Sun Jan 16:** Sale Sharks (away, 2pm, Heywood Road)

**Sat Jan 22:** Worcester Warriors (home, 2.30pm, Kingston Park Stadium)

**Sat Feb 5:** Yorkshire (home, 2pm, Kingston Park Stadium)

**Sat Feb 12:** Northampton Saints (away, Franklin’s Gardens, 2pm)

**Sat Feb 26:** National finals day (Sixways Stadium, Worcester, times TBC)