The U18 Premiership kicks off tomorrow, the first of seven rounds of games before the U18 academy season finishes with the U18 Premiership finals day at Allianz Park on Monday 15th February.
The league is split into a northern and southern division, with seven sides in each. The teams are the twelve Aviva Premiership club academies, plus Bristol and Yorkshire Carnegie academies from the Greene King IPA Championship.
With each division having an odd number of teams, each week both divisions have a side who have a bye week, this week Leicester Tigers sit out the action in the north, while Bristol sit things out in the South.
Teams are allowed a few players who are actually school leavers in their squads, however the vast majority of those selected are the cream of the crop on this year’s school rugby circuit.
The action all kicks off at midday tomorrow with Harlequins v Saracens at Surrey Sports Park. Trinity and England U18 winger Gabriel Ibitoye, who is one of three players in the Quins squad to have played in the Singha Premiership 7s for the club in the summer, skippers Quins. Cranleigh’s Dino Lamb-Cona and John Fisher’s Nathan Thomas were also part of that squad.
Saracens also pick a very exciting looking squad, with a number of them having already had some 1st XV experience in pre season, including Haileybury’s Nick Isiekwe and Tonbridge’s Ben Earl.
Ahead of the game, Saracens Academy Manage Dom Barrell said:
“It’s a great chance to see our younger players after what has been a busy preseason campaign. We caught a glimpse of the talent in this group against Worcester at Bramley Road with a handful of these players getting the experience of the senior set-up on the day. As a club we’re all looking forward to working with these lads as they continue to develop this season and Saturday will provide them with a tough test.”
At 13.00 Exeter Chiefs, whose academy has produced such bright young talent as Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, and Luke Cowan-Dickie recently, host London Irish U18 at Exeter University.
Speaking ahead of the game, Exeter Chiefs Academy coach Rob Gibson said:
“We’re really looking forward to the start of the season. This year, I believe, we have an exciting and quality group of players who can really challenge. Obviously we’ve seen over the years how guys from the Academy system have made it through to the senior ranks of the Chiefs set-up and we’re hopeful players within this group can ultimately follow suit.”
“London Irish first up will be a very good test for us, but training has gone well in the lead up to the game and we’re hopeful we can start the season with a really positive result.”
Included in the Chiefs side are highly-rated centre Harry Strong, who saw game time for the 1st XV in pre season, prop Marcus Street, lock Hugo Culverhouse, flanker Charlie Wright and half-backs Joe Snow and Harvey Skinner.
London Irish are skippered by Wellington College’s Tom Parton at full back, and he is joined by a number of his schoolmates, including Ben Loader of the wing and Jack Ingall at openside.
One of the stars of the London Irish side could well be Roman Malin-Hiscock, who was named the player of the tournament at the St Joseph’s Festival last weekend as he skippered Hampton to their first ever title at the Festival.
Kicking off at the same time is Worcester Warriors v Yorkshire Carnegie at Sixways Stadium, these are two sides who have really gone well with their academies of late.
Worcester look in good nick, they beat Northampton Saints last weekend in a warm up game. Three Bromsgrove players make their starting team, Alex Nisbet, George Wootten, and Tom Ford, with another two on the bench. As they are one of the top school sides around and the NatWest Cup champions, that just shows the Warriors strength.
Yorkshire Carnegie also name an exciting side, and they are led by their scrum half Ollie Fox.
Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints meet at 14.00, Newcastle Falcons are yet to publicly announce their side, but it will include eight members of the AASE affiliate side, Gosforth Academy. The Northampton Saints side looks very exciting indeed. Their half backs are particularly exciting, with England U18 scrum half Alex Mitchell making his first appearance since moving from Sale, where his older brother James is one of their young scrum halves. At fly half they have James Grayson, the son of former England and Northampton Saints outside half, Paul.
Tosen Segun, younger brother of former England U18 wing Rotimi, starts on the wing and there is room for four Bedford School players in their squad too, Oli Burgess, Jake Carter, Fraser Dingwall, and George Cave.
Kicking off at the Ricoh Arena straight after the senior Aviva Premiership fixture is Wasps v Bath, at 16.00.
Speaking ahead of the game, Wasps’ Academy Performance Manager Ian Taplin said:
“This is a great opportunity for our players to see what it is like to play in a big stadium such as the Ricoh Arena. It is going to pose them with a number of different challenges to overcome, such as crowd noise and occasion, which are essential parts of their learning and progression.”
Wasps have picked a side mixed between school stars and their AASE stars from Henley College, some names to look out for include Abingdon hooker Jamie Cox (Abingdon actually have two hookers in the squad with Tom Guthrie also included, and Henley College outside centre Caleb Shepherd, among others.
Bath meanwhile have a squad that are ravaged by injury, however they have still been able to put together a strong side, which includes senior academy stars Zach Mercer and Darren Atkins.
One name that will catch the eye of many is that of Harrow School fly half Jacob Ford, the younger brother of England and Bath star George and son of Bath Director of Rugby, Mike.
There is just one fixture on Sunday as Gloucester host Sale Sharks at Hartpury College, a 14.30 kick off.
Looking ahead to the game, Brendan Thomas, Sale Sharks Academy Coach, said:
“We drew with them last year, 22-22, at Carrington and then we lost on the last play of the game at Hartpury the year before so it’s always a close game between the two sides and I’m looking forward to seeing what these talented bunch of lads can do.”
There are a number of very exciting players in the Sale line up, though two to really keep an eye on are the Curry twins from Oundle School in the back row, Ben and Tom. Gloucester look likely to be strong, with a side based mainly on their Hartpury College AASE feeder side.
With the next round of fixtures not taking place until the weekend of the 12th December, this is a hugely important round of games for each side to lay down an early and long lasting marker in. It is also a key weekend for players to force themselves into the reckoning of the England U18 coaches, who will be watching these games very closely indeed.
More than anything though, this should be a brilliant weekend of U18 rugby, played at a high standard and with plenty of excitement. We can’t wait.
Harlequins v Saracens – Surrey Sports Park, 12.00
Exeter Chiefs v London Irish – Exeter University, 13.00
Worcester Warriors v Yorkshire Carnegie – Sixways, 13.00
Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints – Kingston Park, 14.00
Wasps v Bath – Ricoh Arena, 16.00
Gloucester v Sale Sharks – Hartpury College, 14.30
Forwards: Suvwe Obano, Alex Bidwell, Callum Tilleray, Sam Gratton, Paul Marshall, Kareem Swandell, John Okafor, Lars Heidrich, Nathan Thomas, James Gulliver, Victor Keunen, Henry Paremain, Dino Lamb-Cona.
Backs: Niall Saunders, Tom Nicole, Sam Morley, Marcus Smith, Jake Hennessy, Cadan Murley, Alex Hogg, Gabriel Ibitoye (Captain), Max Coyle and Matt Harrison.
15 Alex Gilham, 14 Will Kaye, 13 Oli Morris, 12 Nick Ramsey, 11 Jack Longhurst, 10 Tom Ffitch, 9 James Elms, 1 James Gallagher, 2 Harrison King, 3 Taylor Reed, 4 Danny Cutmore, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 6 Oscar Furneaux, 7 Sean Reffell, 8 Ben Earl.
Replacements: 16 Henry Kiely, 17 Adam Piggott, 18 Harry Morgan, 19 Joel Kpoku, 20 Ed Tidy, 21 Bryn McCall, 22 Josh Wright, 23 Liam Batty.
1 James Kenny, 2 Matt Symons, 3 Marcus Street, 4 Dan Swain, 5 Huge Culverhouse, 6 Sam Daly, 7 Charlie Wright, 8 Dan Head, 9 Joe Snow, 10 Harvey Skinner, 11 A J Cant, 12 Declan Mathews, 13 Harry Strong, 14 Matt Morrish, 15 Toby Williams.
Replacements: 16 Louis Powell, 17 Jed Kerkin, 18 Adam Wright, 19 Charlie Fetney, 20 Aaron Thompson, 21 Matt Marsh, 22 Sam Brown, 23 Ryan Lee.
15 Tom Parton (Captain); 14 Joe Cokanasiga; 13 Roman Malin-Hiscock; 12 Lewis Sampson; 11 Ben Loader; 10 Jacob Atkins; 9 Dan Grant-Adamson; 1 Jarod Leat; 2 Matt Kouris; 3 Dan Winning; 4 Josh Basham; 5 Angus Southon; 6 Jack Cooke; 7 Jack Ingall; 8 Harry Norton.
Replacements: 16 Freddie Boyce; 17 Johnson Chandigree; 18 Austin Hay; 19 Sam Collingridge; 20 Callum Torpey; 21 Luca Cericola; 22 Sam Evans; 23 Connor Hayhow; 24 Joe Murrey.
15 Alex Nisbet (Bromsgrove School), 14 Stan Maine (Worcester Sixth Form College/Warriors AASE), 13 Robbie Smith (Hartpury College), 12 Will Butler (Hereford Cathedral School), 11 Alex Hearle (Church Stretton), 10 Ollie Allsopp (Malvern College), 9 George Wootten (Bromsgrove School), 1 Freddie Hemmingway (John Kyrle High School), 2 George Newman (Worcester Sixth Form College/Warriors AASE), 3 Joe Morris (King’s Aston), 4 Ted Hill (Worcester Sixth Form College/Warriors AASE), 5 James Scott (Malvern College), 6 Tom Ford (Bromsgrove School), 7 Zac Xiourouppa (C) (Warriors Academy), 8 Tom Dodd (Warwick School).
Replacements: 16 Bec Cutting (Bromsgrove School), 17 James Page (Warriors Academy), 18 Charlie Morgan (Solihull School), 19 Max Hill (Worcester Sixth Form College/Warriors AASE), 20 Sam Hollingsworth (Worcester Sixth Form College/Warriors AASE), 21 Josh Nott (RGS Worcester), 22 Blake Edwards (Bromsgrove School).
1. Jack Wafer, 2. Luke Chadwick, 3. Will Dennis, 4. Shaun Crouch, 5. Ben Longton, 6. Ross Kirtland, 7. Lewis Wilson, 8. James Sanderson, 9. Ollie Fox (c), 10. Harry Davey, 11. George Bastow, 12. Connor Field, 13. Suva Ma’asi, 14. Harry Boyd, 15. James Pinder.
Replacements: 16. Jordon Poole, 17. Cole Wilson, 18. Eddie Brown, 19. Hugo Tasker, 20. Sam Pocklington, 21. Will Fordy, 22. Charlie Rae.
Newcastle Falcons: TBA
15 Ollie Burgess, 14 Tosin Segun, 13 Jamel Hamilton, 12 Freddie McKibbin, 11 Adrian Sanday, 10 James Grayson, 9 Alex Mitchell, 1 Devante Onojaife, 2 Alex Rayment, 3 Ehern Painter, 4 Ben Kelland, 5 Alan Gregory, 6 Jake Carter, 7 Matt Watson, 8 Sam Easton.
Replacements: 16 Rob Marmion, 17 George Cave, 18 Rhys Charalambous, 19 Matt Waring, 20 Alex Branson, 21 Harry Warn, 22 Gregor Haldane, 23 Fraser Dingwall.
1 Osman Dimen (Wren Academy), 2 Jamie Cox (Abingdon School), 3 George Strainge (Abingdon School), 4 Joe Tunney (Dr. Challoners), 5 Ehize Ehizode (St. Benedicts), 6 Jacob Turner (Henley College), 7 James Seabrook (Merchant Taylors), 8 Tom Willis (Henley College), 9 Will Porter (Merchant Taylors), 10 Finn Pietersen (Magdelen College), 11 Matt Ilube (St. Benedicts), 12 Nico Petros (Henley College), 13 Caleb Shepherd (Henley College), 14 Toni Kuku (Stowe School), 15 Harry Hanley (St. Benedicts).
Replacements: 16 Tom Guthrie (Abingdon School), 17 George Probyn (The Oratory), 18 Funbi Osuntoki (St. Benedicts), 19 Jack Holford (Abingdon School), 20 Will Glover (Harrow School), 21 Alex Crocker (Henley College), 22 Sam Spink (Hinchley Wood), 23 Caleb Selman (Sir William Borlese’s School).
Bath Rugby U18:
15 Darren Atkins, 14 Tom Lewis, 13 Caspar Bailey, 12 Kieran Griffiths, 11 Henry Martin, 10 Jacob Ford, 9 Cameron Brown, 1 Sam Starks, 2 Jack Hurley, 3 Jamie Bettesworth, 4 Tom Dullage, Ben Lansdown, 6 Zak Smith, 7 Miles Reid, 8 Zach Mercer.
Replacements: 16 Alex Ross, 17 Joe Spiller, 18 Jay Cooke, 19 George Brophy, 20 Charlie Howard, 21 Carl Morgan, 22 James Thorne, 23 Dan Solway.
15. Calum Owen, 14. Ali Wealthall, 13. Harry Blackwell, 12. Jack Beevers, 11. Michael Forrest, 10. Will Hunt, 9. Will Hodgson, 1. George Williams, 2. Ben Martin, 3. Druw Fray, 4. George Bordill, 5. Charlie Pozniak, 6. Tom Curry, 7. Ben Curry, 8. George Blackwell.
Replacements: 16. Ben Gregory, 17. Jamie Ross, 18. Scott Southwell, 19. Sam Dugdale, 20. Kieran Wilkinson, 21. Ben Watson, 22. Arron Reed, 23. George Chatterton
15 Robbie Forbes, 14 Rhys Tudor, 13 Jack Evans, 12 Eric White, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Carwyn Penny, 9 Harry Randall (c), 1 Steff Gibbons, 2 Will Haly, 3 Ciaran Knight, 4 Russell Upton, 5 Alex Craig, 6 Ceri Silvester, 7 Aaron Hinkley, 8 Morgan Morris.
Replacements: 16 Mason Emery, 17 Henry Walker, 18 Harrison Fowke, 19 Ed Bennon, 20 George Humphries, 21 Callum Allen, 22 Charlie Chapman, 23 Mason Tonks.