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'He's a kid out of school and it can be daunting Naiyaravoro sprinting flat out at you'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Wasps boss Lee Blackett may be frustrated by his team’s general inability to convert pressure into points in the Gallagher Premiership, but he is liking what he has recently seen from 19-year-old Charlie Atkinson who will be promoted to a senior team contract for next season after making his first-team breakthrough via the academy.  

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Atkinson hit the headlines last September when his second appearance off of the Premiership bench lasted just minutes as he was mowed down by a red-carded high shot at Saracens from England skipper Owen Farrell. 

He has since bounced back to make a dozen Premiership appearances in this 2020/21 season featuring a half-dozen starts. The first four starts during the winter months were initially at out-half but Atkinson has since popped up at full-back, wearing the No15 jersey in the last two Wasps league outings against Worcester and Northampton. 

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His stats on the Premiership Rugby website from those last two games highlight how busy Atkinson has been, making 143 metres from 23 carries that featured five clean breaks and left five defenders beaten. They were also two tackles and on the negative side of the ledger, there were three tackles missed and three turnovers conceded. 

Blackett openly admitted when quizzed by RugbyPass that he still very much viewed Atkinson as an out-half but the importance in recent games was more to get his youngster on the pitch in whatever position possible to help further accelerate his development. 

“What you will find with a lot of 10s now is they will spend a lot of time in the backfield,” explained Blackett when asked for his assessment on how Atkinson has fared as the starting Wasps full-back. “10 and 15 are our two full-backs at times so it is not as big a change as people make out for a 10 to go and stand at full-back because defensively that is where he normally is. 

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“What I have seen is it gives us a big right foot, left foot combination with him and Jacob (Umaga) and the reason we have probably not played him at 10 is the form of Jacob recently, he has been going really well and we are trying to bed Charlie in. 

“There has been bravery, putting his body on the line. He had to make a few last-ditch tackles at the weekend on players like (Taqele) Naiyaravoro. He is a kid just out of school and it can be daunting with a figure like Naiyaravoro sprinting on the wing flat out at you at full-back and he is putting his body on the line. 

“There is plenty of little parts of his game in terms of the game management he has done well, but I still think there are little parts of his game that are going to come on. His positioning, he is definitely a 10. He is a 10 that can play 15 rather than a 15 that can play at 10 but for us it is about trying to give him game time and trying to get him out there, making him better for this experience and speeding up his development.”

Atkinson’s height and weight aren’t officially known. His profile in the Wasps match programme from the last home game versus Worcester was blank while his profile on the club website is currently absent, but Blackett is happy with the level of robustness that the player who turns 20 in October is demonstrating. 

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“He is a good size, Charlie, works hard in the gym. For a 19-year-old kid, our academy has done a great job on him. He has had a specialist S&C coach going into school every week with him, he has had one-to-one Wasps coaches, S&C coaches going in and looking after him. 

“Our younger guys that we are thinking ‘he’s a definite 100 per cent Premiership player’, we send specialist coaches in so every week at school he would have had an S&C coach going into him, a rugby coach going in and seeing him working on his skill set just to get him to this place.

“Fair play to those staff, they have accelerated his development and it’s very rare that you get a kid come through this quickly that spends most of his time on the field. You’ll find that guys that come in this quickly sometimes pick up knocks and Charlie is pretty resilient in that way, but he has had a lot of attention put on him for quite a while.” 

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'He's a kid out of school and it can be daunting Naiyaravoro sprinting flat out at you'

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