Sunday sees the U18 Academy League Finals take place at Saracens’ Allianz Park.
There will be three games taking place, the 5th place play-off, the 3rd place play-off, and of course the U18 Academy League Final between Leicester Tigers and Gloucester.
Slightly strangely, the day will kick off with the third place play off between Wasps and Saracens at midday, before a jump backwards to the 5th place play off between Sale Sharks and Harlequins, who met at the same time last year in the final, before the main final takes place at 4pm.
The action all began prior to Christmas, with fourteen teams competing, the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs plus Bristol and Yorkshire Carnegie. Those fourteen teams were split into two groups of seven, divided north and south. Each side played the other teams in the group once, with the top three from each conference heading to Finals Day.
The sides finishing top of each conference, Leicester Tigers in the North and Gloucester in the South, meet in the Final, those Wasps and Saracens play for third after finishing second in the North and South respectively, while third in the North, Sale Sharks, head to the fifth place play off against third in the South, Harlequins.
U18 Academy League Final – Leicester Tigers v Gloucester, 4pm
Leicester Tigers’ side includes two players for the Langley School side that so impressively powered to the U18 Schools Vase final on Tuesday, which takes place on Wednesday 14th, inside centre Andre Dunn and number 8 Thom Smith.
They are skippered by Oakham School’s England U18 international, Cameron Jordan, who is partnered in the second row by fellow England U18 international George Martin of Brooksby Melton College.
Joining Thom Smith in the back row are the Wyggeston pair of Taylor Gough and Henri Lavin, while in the front row Woodhouse Grove’s England U17 star James Whitcombe is at tighthead, with Denstone College’s Jamie Harding at hooker, and another Wyggeston man in Keston Lines at loosehead.
Over in the backs Jordan’s Oakham schoolmate Sam Costelow is at fly half, with Rugby’s Jonny Law at scrum half. Andre Dunn is joined by Denstone College’s Ronnie Du Randt in the centres. Norwich’s Freddie Steward is at full back, with Stamford’s Zack Godfrey and Bishop Vesey’s Will Poland this wingers.
It was an unusual campaign for Tigers. An opening round draw against Northampton Saints, who would go on to finish bottom, was their only blemish, but it left them having to scrap their way through for top spot.
Gloucester, in contrast, absolutely romped to the Southern Conference title. They went unbeaten, securing 29 out of a possible 30 league points, and rounding off the league season with a stunning 72-12 defeat of Bristol.
They are led by Cheltenham College winger Tom Stanton on Sunday, with his schoolmate Jack Clement at number 8. Their side is dominated though by a sizeable Hartpury College contingent, many of whom are in the England U18 or England U17 squads.
Among the England U18 group is Jack Reeves at outside centre, with his Hartpury College teammate and England U17 international, Isaac Marsh, alongside him. Joining Stanton in the back three is another Hartpury College and England U18 star, Jacob Morris, on the left wing, with fellow England u18 international Reece Dunn at full back, Dunn though is a product of St Peter’s, Gloucester.
The half backs see Dean Close and England U18 fly half George Barton link but with Steve Varney at scrum half. Up front there are two U18 international props in Ollie Adkins and Jack Bartlett, Bertie Stretch sits between them at hooker.
England U17 second row Archie Tarbuck, another Hartpury College man, packs down alongside Joe Howard in the second row, while joining Jack Clement in the back row are Dec Fissenden at openside and yet another Harptury College and England U18 international, JJ Tonks, at blindside.
It does appear to be a stunningly talented Gloucester group, but you can be sure that come Sunday these two will both be putting on a performance of unbelievable commitment. What is exciting though is that with ball in play time and high skillsets across all players being promoted by both academies, it should also be a cracking match.
3rd Place Play-Off – Wasps v Saracens, 12pm
Wasps looked as though they were going to push Leicester all the way in the Northern Conference until a stunning performance against them by the Tigers in early Feb rather halted that dream. However for the second year in a row, Wasps head to finals day, where they will face the host Academy, Saracens.
Wasps are led by Bloxham’s England U18 hooker, Alfie Barbeary, who is propped up by Zac Nearchour of Radley College and Paddy Harris. Harrow’s Anjoe Ademuwagun and Radley College’s Alfred Mawdsley pack down behind in the engine room, while the exciting back row of Kieran Curran, James Tunney, and Nic Jakobsen will provide plenty of dynamism.
In the backline Kristian Kay is at scrum half alongside Abingdon’s U16 fly half, Charlie Atkinson. England U18 international Sam Spink is at inside centre, the Wellington College skipper has appeared for the Wasps senior side this season. He is partnered by Cam Anderson, while fellow U18 international Will Simonds of Henley College is at full back. Stowe’s Taju Atta and Henley College’s Tom Bacon are on the wings.
Saracens enjoyed a really strong campaign, losing just once. That sole defeat came in the opening round and was a close thriller against Gloucester, 34-31, given what Gloucester went on to do, that actually now looks a very strong result. No wonder, this is a very strong Saracens side.
This should also be a fascinating game, not least because lining up opposite Wasps’ skipper Barbeary is another England U18 hooker in Haileybury’s Kapeli Pifeleti, which should make for a brilliant battle. Either side of Pifeleti are Harrow’s Sam Crean, and Sutton Valence’s England U17 tighthead, Harvey Beaton.
The second row sees Felsted’s Ollie Stoneham and Bishop Stortford’s College’s Cameron Boon link up, while in the back row Hayes’ England U17 blinside Ethan Benson is joined by Tonbridge’s Dylan Taylor and Judd’s Alfie Scopes at number 8.
Taylor’s Tonbridge schoolmate Matteo Petrozzi is at scrum half and is partnered by Harrow and England U18 fly half Manu Vunipola, cousin of Billy and Mako. King’s Canterbury’s Charlie Watson and Haileybury’s Jamie Hoyes are the centres, while there is an all New Hall wing pairing ofDavid Jimoh-Ibrahim of and Oliver Bluck. Dulwich College’s Champions Trophy winner Max Bliss is at full back.
5th Place Play-Off – Sale Sharks v Harlequins, 2pm
This game ought to be a very fun game of rugby, played between the side that dominates the England U18 squad, Sale Sharks, and the one that dominates the England U17 squad, Harlequins.
It is also a repeat of last year’s main final, which was won by a Marcus Smith inspired Harlequins side at Sixways Stadium.
Sale finished third in the Northern Conference, but by the end they were arguably the form team, but a slow start really cost them. On Sunday they line up with England U18 fly half Kieran Wilkinson of Kirkham Grammar School, who is partnered by Jacob Ainscough at scrum half.
Sale Sharks and England U18 star Cameron Redpath is absent as he is in action for England U20 on Friday night, but his schoolmate and England U17 international Tom Curtis slots in nicely at inside centre alongside Kirkham Grammar School’s Connor Doherty, another England U18 international, at outside centre. Nathan Pope is at full back, with Tom Walsh on the left wing, Wirral Grammar School’s Tom Roebuck, and England U17 international, is on the right wing. You can see him in action again on Wednesday in the U18 Schools Vase final at Twickenham against Langley.
Up front Sedbergh and England U18 loosehead, Bevan Rodd, is joined in the front row by Ewan Ahsman at hooker and Sandbach’s Cal Ford at tighthead. Such is the strength of the Sale propping department that England U17s James Harper, is on the bench.
Sedbergh and England U18 lock Rouban Birch links up with Jack Hill in the engine room, while in the back row Ciaran Booth packs down alongside Kirkham Grammar School’s England U18 pair of Teddy Leatherbarrow and Sam Dugdale.
Harlequins enjoyed an identical record to Sale in finishing third in the southern conference, winning three, drawing one, and losing two of their six games. An extra try scoring bonus point meant that they finished with 20 points to Sale’s 19 though.
As is often the way with Quins at U18 level, they have not announced their starting team, rather a group from which the side will be selected from. It looks a hugely exciting group though. Cranleigh School, who won Wednesday’s prestigious Edwin Doran Surrey Schools Senior 7s, have three players in the 23, Hugh Tizard, Hayden Hyde, and England U18’s Harry Barlow.
Joining Barlow in the backs division is Brighton College’s England U17 star Luc Smith, younger brother of rising star Marcus, along with fellow England U17 internationals Lennox Anyanwu of Christ’s Hospital and Fulbrook’s James Botterill.
Two of Dulwich College’s Champions Trophy winners, Femi Sofolarin and outside half Sunni Jardine are included, so too the St John’s Leatherhead pair of Jack Potter and Jordan Bond, who picked up the Plate at Wednesday’s Surrey 7s, St Paul’s star Caolan Englefield completes the backs options, where unfortunately Hampton and England U17 star Louis Lynagh is unavailable.
Up front there are five of the Whitgift squad that made it to the U18 Schools Cup semi finals, front row twins Jon Benz-Salomon and Aristot Benz Salomon, and loosehead Jacob Morris, as well as England U17 second row George Hammond and his international teammate Harry Dugmore in the back row.
Harrow flanker Jack Glover is also included, as are Reed’s Jack Kenningham, Sevenoaks’ Kieran Sassone, and Hartpury College’s Vince Everitt. U18 Schools Bowl finalist and England U17 squad member Sam Riley is also in the side, so too his England teammate Jack Reid of Wellington College.
U18 Academy League Finals Day Schedule
12pm Wasps v Saracens (3rd Place Play-Off)
2pm Sale Sharks v Harlequins (5th Place Play-Off)
4pm Leicester Tigers v Gloucester (U18 Academy League Final)
15 Freddie Steward (Norwich), 14 Zack Godfrey (Stamford), 13 Ronnie Du Randt (Denstone College), 12 Andre Dunn (Langley), 11 Will Poland (Bishop Vesey), 10 Sam Costelow (Oakham), 9 Jonny Law (Rugby), 1 Keston Lines (Wyggeston & QE College), 2 Jamie Harding (Denstone College), 3 James Whitcombe (Woodhouse Grove), 4 George Martin (Brooksby Melton College), 5 Cameron Jordan (Oakham, captain), 6 Henri Lavin (Wyggeston & QE College), 7 Taylor Gough (Wyggeston & QE College), 8 Thom Smith (Langley).
Replacements: 16 Finlay Gibson (Brooksby Melton College), 17 Alex Maxwell (Brooksby Melton College), 18 Joe Latham (Wyggeston & QE College), 19 Xander Purcell (Wyggeston & QE College), 20 Dave Koelman (Stamford), 21 Will Yarnell (Loughborough GS), 22 Jacob Fewtrell (Denstone College), 23 Sam Wager (Wyggeston & QE College).
15 Reece Dunn, 14 Tom Stanton (captain), 13 Jack Reeves, 12 Isaac Marsh, 11 Jacob Morris, 10 George Barton, 9 Steve Varney, 1 Olly Adkins, 2 Bertie Stretch, 3 Jack Bartlett, 4 Archie Tarbuck, 5 Joe Howard, 6 JJ Tonks, 7 Dec Fissenden, 8 Jack Clement.
Replacements: 16 Morgan Nelson, 17 Shay O’Malley, 18 Alex Hunt, 19 Jonny Holiday, 20 Josh Gray, 21 Jack Curtis, 22 Tommy Mathews, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit.
15 Nathan Pope, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Connor Doherty, 12 Tom Curtis, 11 Tom Walsh, 10 Kieran Wilkinson, 9 Jacob Ainscough, 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Ewan Ashman, 3 Cal Ford, 4 Rouban Birch, 5 Jack Hill, 6 Ciaran Booth, 7 Teddy Leatherbarrow, 8 Sam Dugdale.
Replacements: 16 Liam Davies, 17 Alex Brooks, 18 James Harper, 19 Joe Murphy, 20 Charlie Papworth, 21 Joe Johnson, 22 Will Davies, 23 James Rooney.
Jacob Morris (Whitgift), Sam Riley (St George’s, Weybridge), Jon Benz-Salomon (Whitgift), Hugh Tizard (Cranleigh), George Hammond (Whitgift), Jack Glover (Harrow), Jack Reid (Wellington College), Jack Kenningham (Reeds), Aristot Benz-Salomon (Whitgift), Kieran Sassone (Sevenoaks), Harry Dugmore (Whitgift), Vince Everitt (Hartpury College).
Caolan Englefield (St Paul’s), Jack Potter (St John’s, Leatherhead), Femi Sofolarin (Dulwich College), Sunni Jardine (Dulwich College), Jordan Bond (St John’s, Leatherhead), Hayden Hyde (Cranleigh), James Botterill (Fullbrook), Lennox Anyanwu (Christ’s Hospital), Luc Smith (Brighton College), Harry Barlow (Cranleigh).
15 Max Bliss (Dulwich College), 14 David Jimoh-Ibrahim (New Hall), 13 Jamie Hoyes (Haileybury), 12 Charlie Watson (King’s Canterbury), 11 Oliver Bluck (New Hall), 10 Manu Vunipola (Harrow), 9 Matteo Petrozzi (Tonbridge), 1 Sam Crean (Harrow), 2 Kapeli Pifeleti (Haileybury), 3 Harvey Beaton (Sutton Valence), 4 Ollie Stonham (Felsted), 5 Cameron Boon (Bishop Stortford College), 6 Ethan Benson (Hayes), 7 Dylan Taylor (Tonbridge), 8 Alfie Scopes (Judd).
Replacements 16 Theodore Dan (Alleyn’s), 17 Tom Harris (Tonbridge), 18 Harry Sturge (Felsted), 19 Matthew Cook (Haileybury), 20 Matt Mahoney (Trinity Catholic High School), 21 Rory Hazelton (Whitgift), 22 Josh Barton (Berkhamsted), 23 Jake Morris (Bishop Stortford College).
15 Will Simonds, 14 Taju Atta, 13 Cam Anderson, 12 Sam Spink, 11 Tom Bacon, 10 Charlie Atkinson, 9 Kristian Kay, 1 Zac Nearchou, 2 Alfie Barbeary (captain), 3 Paddy Harris, 4 Anjo Ademuwagun, 5 Alfred Mawdsley, 6 Kieran Curran, 7 James Tunney, 8 Nic Jakobsen.
Replacements: 16. Flynn Delaney, 17 Alex Pleasants, 18 Dan Roche, 19 Pete Vickers, 20 Will Stoker, 21 Henry Chilcott, 22 Finn Pietersen, 23 Aaron Youngs.