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Wasps change their young guns policy despite Atkinson breakthrough

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Wasps boss Lee Blackett has decided to take a different approach with some of his club’s most promising youngsters for the 2021/22 season, loaning them out to lower league clubs rather than keeping them in Coventry in the hope they can replicate the incredible breakthrough campaign enjoyed last season by Charlie Atkinson. 

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The recent England U20s Six Nations title winner initially made headlines for getting concussed as an 18-year-old by the red-carded Owen Farrell when Wasps defeated Saracens in September 2020 in the post-lockdown resumption of the delayed 2019/20 Premiership.

However, the youngster shrugged off that high profile setback by becoming a regular part of Blackett’s selection plans in 2020/21, featuring in a dozen Premiership matches and another two in Europe.

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That breakthrough resulted in the soon-to-be 20-year-old securing his first senior contract at the club and it is expected he will now challenge the established Jacob Umaga for the No10 jersey in the months ahead now that former All Black Lima Sopoaga has joined Lyon in France. 

With Atkinson having been such a roar-away success despite his youth, the temptation surely existed for Blackett to pin high hopes on similar rookie youngsters making a big breakthrough in the upcoming season at Wasps. 

However, the Premiership boss has decided with the return of grassroots rugby in England following the lifting of the pandemic restrictions that it would be best to send his best rookie prospects elsewhere so they can gain weekly match experience rather than wait patiently for an Atkinson-like look-in at Wasps. “Last year Charlie got his chance and he deserved it,” said Blackett when asked by RugbyPass if there was now a queue of youngsters at Wasps looking to follow the trail blazed by Atkinson.

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“He got his chance earlier than expected because of playing a load of games in a short period after lockdown and then we were really impressed with what he did and he carried that on. It is going to be a great year for Charlie, two young 10s fighting it out for us here. 

“But what we will definitely do with our other younger guys is make sure they are out there playing because a lot of the 18, 19-year-old lads just haven’t played any rugby in the last 18 months and we need to get them out there playing. 

“Charlie had come off the back of playing after lockdown, came straight in. But the other younger guys, we could have involved a couple this week and put them on the bench for (Saturday’s friendly against) Coventry but we have instead actually sent them out on loan because we feel that is best for them,” continued Blackett, who has added England assistant John Mitchell to his staff for the year ahead.

“Especially with the season up and coming – we want these players at clubs playing week in week out because that is the best thing for young kids. They can be in this environment (at Wasps) and it does improve them, there is no doubt, but there is actually nothing that substitutes playing.”

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Among the list of Wasps loanees lining up elsewhere in the weeks and months ahead are Zac Nearchou, the 20-year-old tighthead who has played age-grade for England. He is now at Championship club Ampthill. Elsewhere, another England age-grade tighthead, Robin Hardwick, is at Chinnor in National 1, scrum-half Ollie Monye is with Rams and winger Jude Williams is lining out for Loughborough Students.

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