Newcastle Falcons youngsters have spent the past week testing themselves against the best players in the country in the Wellington Premiership Rugby Under-16s Academy Festival.
Held at Wellington College in Berkshire, Newcastle were among the 14 Premiership Rugby academies taking part in the week-long event, academy director Mark Laycock delighted with their progress on and off the field.
Laycock explained: “It is a week-long camp for the under-16s players at all 14 academies (the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs plus Bristol and Yorkshire Carnegie), and it is the first year they have done it in this format. Previously it has been North of England, South East, Midlands etc and they have played against the likes of Belgium. But they have changed the format around and there is now more emphasis on developing English players.
“The lads were down there all week. On Monday we beat Bristol four tries to one, drew with Exeter three tries all and beat Saracens two tries to one. From there we got seeded and ended the week with a game against Harlequins on Friday. We lost a very intense and physical match 10 tries to three against an outstanding Quins side, but the whole week has been a really good experience for the group.”
He added: “As well as playing against their peers from other Premiership clubs they do a lot of educational work. They learn about things like healthy eating, social media, agents and the professional pathway, which is all valuable for them. In addition they had an international training day on one of the days where they mixed in with players and coaches from other clubs, and from our point of view it has been good.
“It has been really useful to see the boys away from their usual environment, looking after themselves in the school’s boarding house, obviously under the supervision of our coaches and staff. We have learned a lot about them as people and I would have to say all the lads have really done themselves proud. They have been a credit to the club and a lot of them have stood out.”
Forming a focal point to the season at that age group, Laycock said: “The lads all played county rugby at the start of the year, and we have played in two warm-up festivals. One was against Sale Sharks and Yorkshire Carnegie, the other against Gloucester and Bath, and then this last week has been the big event. From this they will now move on to finish their GCSEs, things will move on from an academy perspective and it has been a great experience.
“They have been working with great staff like Martin McKeenan (academy strength and conditioning coach), PJ Butler (AASE scheme manager), Lawrence Patten (assistant academy coach), James Ponton (academy head coach) and Aiden McNulty (academy coach), and they will have gained a lot from it.
“An England team is selected on the back of the festival for a one-off fixture, but more than anything it is just a chance for the lads to experience something a little bit different. They have lived like professional rugby players for the week, Wellington College has been an amazing venue and they have loved it.”