What goes on behind the scenes of a Premiership rugby academy?

Video transcript

Academy player Thom Smith:

Q: What’s it like to be in an academy?

TS: Yeah it’s brilliant, it’s really good knowing all of your hard work beforehand just pays off and your represent a club that you think really high of.

Q: What is a typical week for you?

TS: Monday afternoons I come up to Leicester. I leave at about half 12 because I’m based in Norwich, travel up, train from about 4-7 and then get back on a Monday at about 11 at night.

Tuesday we’ve then got school rugby, which consists of strength and conditioning and rugby again.

Wednesday is a day off. Thursday strength and conditioning and rugby for school, and then if it’s a game with Tigers we’ll have a pre-game run on Friday then a game on Saturday.

Q: Is there time for school work in there as well?

TS: Just about! I try to.

Q: What’s the best thing about being in the academy?

TS: [I’m] trying to pick just one thing… probably representing the club. It’s something you think very highly of.

Q: Obviously you’ve got Anthony Allen as your coach, a very influential player. Do you get to spend much time with any other first team players?

TS: Yeah, they come down and help out with the academy and development quite a lot. We’ve had Matthew Tait come down and help out and it’s very family orientated so we get a lot of help from the first teamers.

Leicester Tigers Academy Manager David Wilks:

Q: Leicester has always been famous for their academy. Is there an emphasis that home-grown is the way forward?

DW: The club culture is massively [focussed] around home-grown players and the academy and has been for a long time. There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to really endorse the academy and endorse the position of the academy from within the club.

From a playing point of view, it’s really important that we develop those home-grown players. That’s not just a financial thing, it’s a performance thing as well. You look at the Youngs’ (Ben and Tom Youngs), Coley (Dan Cole) and George Ford and actually it’s those guys that really understand the club and are leaders in the team. That’s really important for the club to have those as people who just give that extra bit on the pitch. They really understand the club and obviously the fans appreciate that and have more of an affinity with the local players as well.

Q: What is a typical week for an academy player?

DW: So it’s split in to two terms really. The first term they spend most of the term at their school or college, they’ll see us once a week and we will try and see the players at least every other week and watch them play for their school or college. Towards December, we’ll start to take up more of their time and train twice a week, certainly one development session on a Monday and then try and have a game or preparation session before we play on the weekend and that’s all for the player program from December to February.

Q: How much time do the academy players spend with the first team players?

DW: We share a site here, so it’s too small to have both teams here at once but we do try to schedule training for when the first team are finishing just so the players rub shoulders - maybe in and around the gym and the physio department so they get to say hello. The development squad, the older players, are just below the first team and they train alongside them on a daily basis.

Q: How often do you feedback on the players’ progress to the likes of head coach Matt O’Connor?

DW: In terms of the lads that are 18-23, he sees them a lot. We discuss them every couple of weeks regarding their progress. It’s this time of year really that Matt will be very interested in how the boys are doing in the u18 program; who he might be looking to bring in more regularly next year but he has an eye on them and it’s one thing at this club that all the senior coaches will know the academy players, will know the 18-year-olds, the 17-year-olds. It makes it very easy to talk about the players when Geordan Murphy, Stunko, Deacs and Matt O’Connor know who the players are and take a real interest in what they do.

What goes on behind the scenes of a Premiership rugby academy?

Recently I travelled to the Oval Park Training Ground, also known as Leicester Tigers HQ, to watch Leicester Tigers’ academy take on the academy from Newcastle Falcons in their final pool game of the season and find out what exactly does go on behind the scenes of a Premiership Rugby academy.

Every season the 12 Premiership Rugby Clubs and 2 Championship sides put forward the very best their academies have to offer, to compete in the under 18s academy competition. This competition is divided into a Northern and a Southern conference from which the top 3 sides from each pool battle it out for first through to sixth place come the end of the season.

At the time, Leicester were leading the Northern Conference, whilst Newcastle were just a few places behind them in the table and were still playing for their own chance of qualifying for the Finals Day at Allianz Park in a few weeks’ time.

Even at this level it was noticeable just how professional the academy set-up was, and other than perhaps a few less drills the sides were both run in a way that was not too dissimilar from their first team counterparts.

Once the match got underway, the players really looked like they were enjoying themselves. The match was end-to-end but the Leicester side were just too strong, scoring 3 unanswered tries in the first half, and continued to show their dominance in the second to record a 47-7 win that saw them remain top of their table and move on to the academy final against Gloucester Rugby, which the club went on to win 43-21.

Before and after the match, I spoke to some of the players and coaches from both sides to find out a bit more about their experiences of a professional rugby academy. Here’s what they had to say.

Academy player Thom Smith:

Q: What’s it like to be in an academy?

TS: Yeah it’s brilliant, it’s really good knowing all of your hard work beforehand just pays off and your represent a club that you think really high of.

Q: What is a typical week for you?

TS: Monday afternoons I come up to Leicester. I leave at about half 12 because I’m based in Norwich, travel up, train from about 4-7 and then get back on a Monday at about 11 at night.

Tuesday we’ve then got school rugby, which consists of strength and conditioning and rugby again.

Wednesday is a day off. Thursday strength and conditioning and rugby for school, and then if it’s a game with Tigers we’ll have a pre-game run on Friday then a game on Saturday.

Q: Is there time for school work in there as well?

TS: Just about! I try to.

Q: What’s the best thing about being in the academy?

TS: [I’m] trying to pick just one thing… probably representing the club. It’s something you think very highly of.

Q: Obviously you’ve got Anthony Allen as your coach, a very influential player. Do you get to spend much time with any other first team players?

TS: Yeah, they come down and help out with the academy and development quite a lot. We’ve had Matthew Tait come down and help out and it’s very family orientated so we get a lot of help from the first teamers.

Leicester Tigers Academy Manager David Wilks:

Q: Leicester has always been famous for their academy. Is there an emphasis that home-grown is the way forward?

DW: The club culture is massively [focussed] around home-grown players and the academy and has been for a long time. There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to really endorse the academy and endorse the position of the academy from within the club.

From a playing point of view, it’s really important that we develop those home-grown players. That’s not just a financial thing, it’s a performance thing as well. You look at the Youngs’ (Ben and Tom Youngs), Coley (Dan Cole) and George Ford and actually it’s those guys that really understand the club and are leaders in the team. That’s really important for the club to have those as people who just give that extra bit on the pitch. They really understand the club and obviously the fans appreciate that and have more of an affinity with the local players as well.

Q: What is a typical week for an academy player?

DW: So it’s split in to two terms really. The first term they spend most of the term at their school or college, they’ll see us once a week and we will try and see the players at least every other week and watch them play for their school or college. Towards December, we’ll start to take up more of their time and train twice a week, certainly one development session on a Monday and then try and have a game or preparation session before we play on the weekend and that’s all for the player program from December to February.

Q: How much time do the academy players spend with the first team players?

DW: We share a site here, so it’s too small to have both teams here at once but we do try to schedule training for when the first team are finishing just so the players rub shoulders - maybe in and around the gym and the physio department so they get to say hello. The development squad, the older players, are just below the first team and they train alongside them on a daily basis.

Q: How often do you feedback on the players’ progress to the likes of head coach Matt O’Connor?

DW: In terms of the lads that are 18-23, he sees them a lot. We discuss them every couple of weeks regarding their progress. It’s this time of year really that Matt will be very interested in how the boys are doing in the u18 program; who he might be looking to bring in more regularly next year but he has an eye on them and it’s one thing at this club that all the senior coaches will know the academy players, will know the 18-year-olds, the 17-year-olds. It makes it very easy to talk about the players when Geordan Murphy, Stunko, Deacs and Matt O’Connor know who the players are and take a real interest in what they do.

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