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Where are they now? The 2017/18 Northampton senior academy

By Liam Heagney
Alex Mitchell and George Furbank at Northampton's trophy parade last Sunday (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

It’s curious what you can come across when bundling up rugby match programmes ahead of some scheduled house refurbishment. It was post-game last Saturday at Twickenham when Phil Dowson paid tribute to the foundation laid at Northampton by Chris Boyd, who was back in the UK from New Zealand to watch the Saints defeat Bath in the Gallagher Premiership final.

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The current director of rugby proudly referenced the Franklin’s Gardens academy that existed when Boyd took the reins in 2018.

“He has been part of that, set the foundations of this group. His remit was to get the club back on track and get the academy going and bring those players through like George Furbank, Alex Mitchell, Fraser Dingwall, Alex Moon, all those guys who have played a lot of games now,” enthused Dowson.

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Lo and behold, what popped out in the RugbyPass bundle a few days later was the programme from the Saints vs Ospreys Heineken Champions Cup match in December 2017, which marked Jim Mallinder’s last game in charge.

Northampton were 8-43 down to the Welsh region, prompting numerous spectators to walk out before a last-quarter fightback massaged the scoreboard to 32-43. It was their eighth cup and league loss on the bounce, Mallinder was sacked within a few days, and it was January 29, 2018, when Boyd was announced as their new DoR.

Northampton senior academy 2017/18
The 2017/18 Northampton senior academy pen picture list which included Fraser Dingwall, George Furbank, Alex Mitchell and Alex Moon

In the programme was a 13-strong list of Northampton senior academy members, including fresh-faced pictures of Furbank, Mitchell, Dingwall and Moon who were all starters in last weekend’s title success. Here is how rugby turned out for that baker’s dozen class of 2017/18:

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Will Allman – The back-rower joined Saints in 2015 but didn’t make the Premiership grade, playing for Nottingham and winning a title with Ampthill in the years that followed.

Fraser Dingwall – The midfielder, who started last Saturday’s final, was a 2017 Saints recruit. Has gone from strength to strength, scoring a crucial Guinness Six Nations try versus Wales last February a week after his Test debut in Rome. Now on tour with England.

Tom Emery – The 2016 Saints scrum-half signing moved to Coventry in the Championship where he spent three seasons. Has since been involved with the Great Britain 7s set-up, featuring on the recent HSBC SVNS circuit.

James Fish – It was 2014 when the hooker was snapped up by Northampton. Made a pre-pandemic breakthrough to the first-team; for instance, he started in eight of his 14 Premiership appearances and made three European starts in 2018/19. Has since moved to Bedford.

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George Furbank – Full-back joined Saints in 2015 but his academy pen picture highlighted how he was one of four players still waiting for age-grade international recognition. Always hinted in glimpses he coul  be a top-class player but thrived for club and country in 2023/24. Played important part in last weekend’s title win and will tour as the player in possession of the England No15 shirt after three successive Test selections.

James Grayson – Son of Paul, the 2003 Rugby World Cup winner, he signed for Saints in 2016 and enjoyed plenty of exposure at out-half. Slipped down the pecking order in recent times, so has spread his wings and can now be found at Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Japan.

Alex Mitchell – Another flying out to tour with England after successful involvement in the Prem final. On the books at Saints since 2015, the scrum-half scored the crucial converted 73rd-minute try that got the better of Bath, the highlight topping off a stellar season where he became his country’s first-choice No9 having initially been snubbed for Rugby World Cup selection.

Alex Moon – Another 2015 recruit, the second row played his final match for Saints last Saturday as he is joining Bayonne in the Top 14 next season.

Devante Onojaife – The 2016 back row signing had a few first-team games but his career panned out similar to fellow forward Allman as stints at Bedford and Ampthill followed after leaving Franklin’s in 2020.

Ehren Painter – The tighthead prop, a 2016 signing, had many first-team outings before a limited 2022/23 campaign, which featured some time at Bedford, was followed a switch to Exeter where he made 21 league and European appearances in his first season.

Paddy Ryan – Another back-rower who headed off elsewhere. Signed in 2017, he made a single Prem Cup appearance for Saints before featuring at a sequence of clubs such as Bedford, Cornish Pirates, Ampthill and Coventry before landing at San Diego Legion. Capped three times by the USA Eagles.

Fraser Strachan – The midfielder, a 2017 recruit, made a couple of first-team appearances before forging a career in the Championship with Bedford, Ealing, Doncaster and Ampthill.

Toby Trinder – The loosehead prop joined Saints in 2016 and make a single Prem Rugby Cup appearance before spending the past five seasons at Coventry after some outings for Bedford and Randwick.

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Mzilikazi 4 hours ago
Daugunu salvo shows why Wallabies work-rate is everything to Schmidt

Nice article, Brett, and good to be writing about a second win. I think Georgia will be far more testing. Tbh, I have not looked at their touring squad, but at full strength they are a far better and more dangerous team than they were at RWC France. They would have been disappointed they did not perform to full potential there. I think that the WB’s under Joe Schmidt have started soundly. Recovery from a serious setback always takes time. And the Jones era was that and more. I think the arrival of Les Kiss back to his native Qld. is a very positive factor, and the fact that he and Schmidt know each other well is a help. Players I think are much improved this year: Daugunu, who has blossomed with the Rebels, so credit to the coaching unit down there. Am pleased he will come back to the Reds. McReight is said to have put on up to 7 kgs since last season. His work rate has always been good, but it is his carrying into contact that has gone up. Now makes those critical one or two metres post contact very often. Is conceding fewer penalties now as his game matures. Rob Valetini was good last year, but is now a greater force this one. A really punishing ball carrier. Hunter Paisami is now a more controlled player. His carrying into contact is very impressive for an 80 kg man. Interestingly, if you saw Nick Bishops latest article, he has a team for RC with Kerevi at 12. Also Skelton in the team. Not sure if there will be o’seas players as early as RC though….but need them in by the EYOT games.

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