The summer months are one of renewal in the Gallagher Premiership, with the gauntlet laid down to promising youngsters in preseason to impress and push their claims for selection in the senior squad.
With the school system in England one of the best in the world and the majority of Premiership clubs now recognising the value of their academies and investing accordingly, there is no shortage of talent to be tapped into.
We have put together under-23 squads for all 12 of the Premiership clubs, to look at what the future of these sides might look like, should they manage to balance the tasks of development, opportunity and retention for these budding talents.
Darren Atkins, Gabriel Hamer-Webb, Max Wright, Max Clark, Joe Cokanasiga; Tom de Glanville, Max Green; Lewis Boyce, Jack Walker, Will Stewart; Levi Douglas, Tom Jeanes; Sam Underhill, Josh Bayliss, Zach Mercer.
Bath aren’t usually talked up as one of the better developers of talent in the Premiership and, in fairness, plenty of these players have been signed from elsewhere, but they have a young pack that is loaded.
Couple that star-studded pack with the gifted back line that hasn’t even got space to fit in promising first-year centre Max Ojomoh, and Bath look, on paper at least, like a team that should only improve in the seasons to come. It’s a nice situation for Stuart Hooper to inherit.
Mat Protheroe, Charlie Powell, Piers O’Conor, Ioan Lloyd, Jack Bates; Callum Sheedy, Harry Randall; Tom Rowland, Will Capon, Ollie Dawe; John Hawkins, Joe Batley; James Dun, George Kloska, Sam Graham.
Bristol’s U23 squad may not be loaded with some of the established stars that the other teams can call upon, something which is understandable given their stints in the Greene King IPA Championship, but it’s a group that look particularly complementary to Pat Lam’s fast-paced style.
O’Conor, Randall and Sheedy have all shown up at senior level already and if Bristol can get some impact from their emerging forwards next season, such as Capon, Dawe and Dun, they’ll take another step towards establishing the homegrown core that Lam wants.
Joe Simmonds, Max Bodilly (O23), Pete Laverick (O23), Sam Morley, Tom O’Flaherty (O23); Harvey Skinner, Jack Maunder; James Kenny, Jack Innard, Marcus Street; Josh Caulfield, Richard Capstick; Flynn Elworthy, Charlie Wright, Rus Tuima.
There was some rather significant bodging needed here to get Exeter a back line, with the strength in their younger players certainly lying in the pack, despite the presences of both Simmonds and Maunder.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) June 28, 2019
Street is, fitness-permitting, a player who should feature more regularly in the Premiership next season, Capstick is extremely highly thought of and Tuima, once he has filled out a little more, is going to terrorise defences at the senior level.
Reece Dunn, Jacob Morris, Tom Seabrook, Jack Reeves, Ollie Thorley; George Barton, Charlie Chapman; Alex Seville, Henry Walker, Ciaran Knight; Alex Craig, Harry Butler; Jake Polledri, Aaron Hinkley, Jack Clement.
Thorley and Polledri headline this group, whilst Seabrook, Hinkley and the front row trio will all fancy their chances of making more of an impact in Johan Ackermann’s side next season.
Barton could well be Danny Cipriani’s heir apparent and will now get a couple of seasons to work alongside and learn from the playmaker, whilst Clement is a talented all-round back row who will have the same opportunity with Jaco Kriel and Ben Morgan.
Louis Lynagh, Gabriel Ibitoye, Joe Marchant, Harry Barlow, Cadan Murley; Marcus Smith, Niall Saunders; George Head, Elia Elia, Kieran Sassone; Hugh Tizard, Dino Lamb; Alex Dombrandt, Will Evans, James Chisholm.
A fair few talented individuals miss out, such as first-year pros Sam Riley and Lennox Anyanwu, although that goes to show the depth Quins have thanks to their particularly rich recruiting grounds.
Players such as Dombrandt, Chisholm, Marchant and Smith are all established at the senior level and expect Ibitoye, Murley and potentially Tizard to join them this season. Jack Musk, Luke James and Jack Kenningham are also options.
Freddie Steward, Jordan Olowofela, Sam Aspland-Robinson, Tom Hardwick, George Worth; Sam Costelow, Ben White; James Whitcombe, Jake Kerr, Joe Heyes; George Martin, Cameron Jordan; Sam Lewis, Tommy Reffell, Henri Lavin.
Plenty of Leicester’s title-winning U18 sides from 2018 and 2019 feature in this XV and show the potential Tigers have in the coming years, if opportunities can be found for them, as well as them taking to the rigours and demands of professional rugby.
Steward could be one of the rare first-year players ready for a significant taste of senior rugby, whilst Kerr and Heyes should continue to impress in the front row. Geordan Murphy will be hoping Olowofela makes the leap, too.
Watch: Part one of our six-part series following Leicester’s U18 side this past season.
Tom Parton, Ben Loader, Matt Williams, Phil Cokanasiga, Ollie Hassell-Collins; Theo Brophy Clews, Rory Brand; Brandon Baker, Ben Atkins, Luke Green; Chunya Munga, Ben Donnell; Izaiha Moore-Aiono, Fin Rossiter, Jack Belcher.
Producing talented players has never been a problem for London Irish, but retaining them? Yeah, that’s an issue.
Loader established himself in the Championship, whilst Donnell and Moore-Aiono took their opportunities on dual-registration. Green and Munga are first-year players who, although unlikely to see much senior action this season, could help provide some tight five reinforcement for Irish, arguably the one area their academy has been slightly quieter.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) April 1, 2019
Harry Mallinder, Ollie Sleightholme, Fraser Dingwall, Rory Hutchinson, Josh Gillespie; James Grayson, Alex Mitchell; Toby Trinder, Samson Ma’asi, Ehren Painter; Alex Coles, Alex Moon; Devante Onojaife, Lewis Ludlam, Tui Uru.
As balanced a XV as you’ll see at this level in the Premiership, Northampton are in a good place with the younger players in their squad, although Mallinder’s injury issues are a concern.
Hutchinson, Grayson and Ludlam all broke out last season and it could be the turn of Dingwall, Sleightholme, Painter and Coles in 2019/20. Uru looks like a bargain signing and one who could turn plenty of heads in the years to come.
The Curry twins have distinguished themselves at the Premiership level for a couple of seasons now and it is difficult to comprehend that they are still only 21 years old. James has done well when called upon and Nott is a talent that is still yet to be fully unleashed.
Redpath, Curtis and Wilkinson provide plenty of playmaking ability, whilst Dugdale does well to keep Sam Moore and Teddy Leatherbarrow out of the one back row spot left available by the Curry twins.
Matt Gallagher, Alistair Crossdale, Rotimi Segun, Dominic Morris, Elliot Obatoyinbo; Max Malins, Tom Whiteley; Rhys Carre, Jack Singleton, Josh Ibuanokpe; Nick Isiekwe, Joel Kpoku; Ben Earl, Sean Reffell, Andy Christie.
Unsurprisingly, and perhaps boringly at this point, Saracens are loaded at this level, with the likes of Ralph Adams-Hale, Theo Dan, Harvey Beaton, Billy Walker and Manu Vunipola unable to crack the XV at this point in time.
Malins, Isiekwe, Earl and Singleton have all shown their ability, whilst Segun, Carre, Ibuanokpe and Kpoku could all fancy their chances of featuring heavily as the club manages the workload for its Rugby World Cup stars.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) April 30, 2019
Matteo Minozzi, Paolo Odogwu, Sam Spink, Jacob Umaga, Ross Neal; Billy Searle, Will Porter; Tom West, Alfie Barbeary, Jordan Cordice; Tim Cardall, Anjo Ademuwagun; Will Wilson, Jack Willis, Tom Willis.
Despite only two of the players in the back line having come through Wasps’ junior academy, the club have managed to assemble a decent cast of promising players outside of Porter, with Spink joining the scrum-half as a product of the club’s pathway.
Barbeary will draw plenty of interest in his first year as a professional, whilst the Willis brothers will have ambitions on locking down starting back row spots alongside one another.
Nick David, Alex Hearle, Ollie Lawrence, Will Butler, Mason Tonks; Jamie Shillcock, Callum Morris; Kai Owen, Beck Cutting, Joe Morris; James Scott, Andrew Kitchener; Justin Clegg, Ted Hill, Tom Dodd.
Worcester will need to tap into the potential of Owen, Morris, Kitchener, Scott et al if they are to move away from the perennial relegation battle they find themselves in, although that is easier said than done.
Watch: The Academy – Part Two
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now