Newcastle Falcons’ AASE players are heading to London on Friday to face Exeter in a major national final - manager Peter Butler insisting the players are ‘buzzing’ ahead of the Allianz Park clash.
The Falcons’ AASE scheme (Achieving Academic and Sporting Excellence) is based at Gosforth Academy and sees students aged between 16 and 18 undertaking a sporting and academic programme.
A number of AASE graduates have gone on to play for the Falcons’ first team in recent years, including current senior squad members Callum Chick and Dan Marshall, but Friday’s 5pm kick-off at Saracens’ home ground represents their first chance to claim the top national prize.
Each Premiership club and a small number of Championship teams have sides in the AASE League, Gosforth Academy losing just one of their regular-season games before winning both of their play-off matches.
A 40-0 thumping of Worcester propelled them into the final after a hard-fought home win over Saracens’ representatives, Oaklands, the previous week, Butler saying ahead of Friday’s showpiece: “It’s fair to say this is the biggest game our AASE scheme has ever had.
“Excitement is the main emotion the boys have got – they are absolutely buzzing. They are seeing it as a great opportunity and they have been playing really well all season. Now they have the chance to show that on the big stage.”
Revealing a player-led system built around playing what is in front of them, the AASE scheme manager added: “We have focused all season on empowering the players, the emphasis has been on performances rather than results and we see no reason to change that just because we are in a final.
“All we have asked the boys to do is continue as they have done all season, and the results will come if they do that.
“We are a team of decision makers. What we do is all about empowering the players to firstly enjoy their game, and secondly to give them the freedom to make decisions based on what they see. We put as few constraints on them as possible, and the strength of the side is their ability to make those good decisions at any point in the game.”
Confident his side will rise to the occasion, Butler said: “It is a really exciting opportunity for us being in such a major national final.
“It will be a great occasion, it is being streamed live on the internet via the RFU website and for our lads it will be the biggest game most of them have played in. It’s all about enjoying the day and making some good memories.”
The Falcons’ AASE players have been sent on their way with the full backing of the club’s senior players, with Newcastle’s first team and staff recording a video in which more than 70 club personnel wish them well for the final.
“It’s great that the Falcons first team squad and the staff at the club have been so supportive,” said Butler, with director of rugby Dean Richards and captain Will Welch among those passing on their best.
“The video was instigated entirely by them, and the first we knew of it was when they showed it to us.
“It’s brilliant for the AASE lads to have such a public gesture like that. It shows the effort they’re putting in is being appreciated, and the Falcons’ senior professionals are the guys who our lads look up to. The fact they are on their side and wanting them to do well just spurs them on that little bit more, and hopefully we can reward that by bringing some silverware back to Newcastle.”