Former England lock Tom Palmer has branded the Rugby Football Union’s decision to axe the Yorkshire rugby academy as “shocking”, ending a system that gave Stuart Lancaster his first coaching opportunity and delivered Danny Care, Luther Burrell and Rob Webber on to the Test scene.
Palmer won 42 England caps in a career that started as a teenager with Leeds when the club were operating at the top of the English game.
The lock went onto to play for Wasps, Stade Francais and Gloucester and is now defence coach at Rouen in the French second tier of professional rugby alongside head coach Richard Hill, the former England captain.
Palmer said: “It is shocking. Yorkshire is the biggest rugby-playing county and needs to have some kind of academy. It really took off when Stuart Lancaster was in charge and an audit showed Leeds had one of the highest number of graduates in the Premiership.”
Wasps back row forward Alex Rieder tweeted his anger at the decision to abandon the academy: “An absolute joke. I gained my opportunity to pursue a dream through Leeds academy. Yorkshire is a hub of talent and has some of the highest calibre of young talent in the country. If you want to sabotage/isolate the development of English rugby then congratulations, job well done.”
Another major blow for the sport in that region https://t.co/ClIaMKHtCh
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 15, 2020
Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s director of performance, insisted that a funding model had been agreed pre-pandemic to maintain the academy programme in conjunction with a new partner as Yorkshire Carnegie could no longer fund it, but that proposal fell through.
Carnegie’s relegation from the Championship triggered a crisis and it now means no academy system exists in Yorkshire which has a bigger population than New Zealand and Ireland.
Lancaster, the ex-England head coach who is now with Leinster, was crucial to the early success of the academy and his own son Daniel is a product of the system, making his first-team debut for Carnegie last season. O’Shea is aware of the mounting anger in Yorkshire which has supplied 124 players to England and boasts 120 junior clubs.
O’Shea told RugbyPass that a short-term plan was being put in place to ensure talented young players remained on the correct pathway and that a long-term solution to deliver a viable academy in Yorkshire was being examined. This may not be based in Leeds and would also involve satellite facilities to recognise the long distances some players face to take part.
The RFU licence which enabled the Yorkshire academy to receive central funding of around £350,000 ended on June 13 and budgets for the union’s academy system will be cut in line with reductions being made in all areas.
O’Shea said: “In the longer term it is about having a focal point in Yorkshire and we had a very clear direction but that has had to be put on the back burner. Across the Gallagher Premiership, it is going to be challenging in terms of the academy funding which is linked to the revenue which is going down this year.
“We have to work smart this year and every academy will get the same level of investment. For Yorkshire, we have to ensure coach development, player identification and development and if we can tick those three boxes in the short-term we will be able to establish the programme that needs to be there.
“Yorkshire was a hot-bed of players and we know how many good players will continue to come from the county. I feel for people in the short-term but hopefully they are comforted by the fact we are trying to re-establish it as it was. I have no doubt it will be again.”
'There were times when I was in the car with the rugby coach and players would be phoning in saying they couldn’t do anymore because it was affecting their actual work life.' @Tom_Varndell talks to @heagneyl ???https://t.co/oKkSFnhHom
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 19, 2020
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