Keeping track of what is happening across Rugby Union in the last few months, and even looking ahead at what is to come, has been a challenge to say the least.
The UK 2019/20 season is over on most levels but still to be completed in others, while the 2020/21 season is but a few weeks away from starting at some levels, and perhaps months at others.
Within all of that flux though some normality has been going on, with most of the Gallagher Premiership clubs confirming their Senior Academy intake for the 2020/21 season. The dreams of many a schoolboy coming to fruition for a select few as they become professional rugby players.
Over the next few days we will be taking a look at each of those Academies and the players that they have promoted to their professional ranks for the forthcoming season from last year’s schoolboy ranks, beginning today, naturally, with Part 1; Bath Rugby, Bristol Bears, and Exeter Chiefs.
Orlando Bailey (Beechen Cliff, fly half)
An England U18 international, Bailey is one of a number of hugely talented fly halves making the jump to the professional ranks across the league this year. Bailey burst onto the scene at Thomas Haryde School with a virtuoso display in the U15 Schools Vase final a few years ago before moving to Beechen Cliff for sixth form, where he his game went from strength to strength. One to watch.
Gabe Goss (Milton Abbey, wing)
Bath are hugely excited about this young winger, who has been tearing up trees at every stage along the pathway and the noises coming out to the club is that he is going to be a fun player to watch. It should be fascinating to see his game develop in the next few years, and with Anthony Watson to learn from, among others, he has plenty of exciting experience to lean on.
John Stewart (Beechen Cliff, hooker)
A bit of a vintage year for England U18 hookers with Joe Vajner and Archie Vanes also earning pro contracts in the Premiership, but Stewart has more than kept pace, showing brilliant form for Beechen Cliff, Bath U18, and England, earning him a contract for next year and plenty of praise to go alongside it too.
Ethan Staddon (Beechen Cliff, back row/second row)
Another England U18 international and another Beechen Cliff graduate in this 2020/21 Bath Senior Academy intake. Staddon has alternated between the back row and the second row and has shown tremendous prowess in both, not unlike players such as Josh Bayliss and Tom Ellis in the senior squad. An impressive man on and off the field, who brings a huge amount of power and stamina to the game, but it is his subtlety that really catches the eye, his nose for an offload is outstanding.
Ewan Richards (Millfield, second row)
If Staddon is going to be drawing on the experiences of Bayliss and Ellis, then Richards certainly will having gone to the same school as them, Millfield, and following in their footsteps with his international honours, too. A fantastic player and already a man mountain, Richards is definitely one to watch, a second row that can do the dirty work and the fun stuff, as well as having real leadership potential having captained teams throughout his fledgling career to date.
Frankie Read (Beechen Cliff, back row)
The fourth of the Beechen Cliff unit to join the Senior Academy this year, Read is an interesting case having moved from the centres to the back row in the tail end of his school career. The reasoning for that is clear though, he is a defensive colossus and with his handling skills in tight spaces is a real archetype of the modern back row player.
Tom Carr-Smith (Sherborne, scrum half)
Carr-Smith captained Sherborne to the U18 Schools Cup semi finals in 2020, where they were but a last play penalty away from reaching Twickenham. Not only was he captain, though, he was the stand out performer. A real thinker behind the scrum, Carr-Smith knows how to steer his sides around the field and has the physical prowess to be able to handle himself in the tight when necessary too. One of the very best school scrum halves in the country in the last couple of years, deserving of his contract without doubt.
Tom Wilsted (Colston’s, fly half)
Another member of the wildly talented crop of fly halves making the step up to the professional ranks this summer across the league. Wilsted helped to guide Colston’s to one of their best years since their heyday in the mid ‘90s and early ‘00s last year and earned himself a call up to the England U18 squad, and rightly so. A delightful player to watch and one of many young backs for Bristol Bears fans to be getting excited about.
Deago Bailey (SGS Filton College, wing)
Bailey is a name that many will know if they have been paying attention to their age-grade rugby in the last few years, he has represented England U18 and been a real star for them, as well as for Bristol Bears and his school, SGS Filton College. With pace and guile aplenty, he is a man to keep a close eye on!
Andrew Turner (SGS Filton College, prop)
The tighthead was an unsung but key cog in Bristol Bears’ U18 Academy League run last year and is rightly awarded a contract for the coming season. With Kyle Sinckler now settling in at Bristol, expect Turner to be asking him plenty of questions – for the modern prop there are few better to try to emulate the game of.
Harry Ascherl (Clifton College, centre)
Ascherl was one of the most talked about players in schoolboy rugby in the last couple of years, his performances for Clifton College drew huge praise from home and away touchlines alike. He has been given plenty of exposure at the top end too, playing in the Premiership Shield in 2018, regularly training with the senior squad since, and has played plenty for the A side too. An all-round centre, Ascherl is surely set to fast become a fan-favourite at Ashton Gate.
Freddie Owsley (Clifton College, wing)
Unlike Wilsted, Bailey, Turner, and Ascherl, Owlsey was not a major part of the Bristol Bears U18 setup, however his performances for Clifton College have seen Bristol recognise his potential and as a later developer that potential could lead a very long way indeed. Could be a real bolter to make huge progress with the squad and given the way he played for Clifton last year, who would bet against him.
Benjy Joseland (Clifton College, wing, – scholar)
Owsley and Ascherl will be joined by their fellow Clifton College leaver Benjy Joseland, who is one of six players to be part of the new scholarship programme at the Bristol Bears Academy, which will see them train and play alongside the senior side and senior academy. Joseland will surely be one they have high hopes for, a really exciting young winger.
Chay Mullins (SGS Filton College, full back, – scholar)
Mullins is also in the scholarship programme and is another thrilling back for Bristol Bears fans to get excited about, the SGS Filton College star is a real joy to watch in the backfield.
Harry Rowson (Bristol Grammar, centre – scholar)
Bristol Grammar School’s production line continues with Harry Rowson’s selection to the scholarship programme at the Bristol Bears Academy. A top centre who played a key role for the U18 side in their Academy League run last year, he will be eager to keep kicking on and on.
Charlie Rice (SGS Filton College, second row – scholar)
Rice was one of the best second rows around last year and gets his shot in the Bristol Bears Academy. One of four SGS Filton College leavers in the scholarship setup and one to watch for sure – also the only non-prop promoted in this group of academy intakes, in the forwards.
George Perry (SGS Filton College, prop, – scholar)
A strong tighthead who impressed for school and club last year, Perry is in a competitive position at the club but, as mentioned earlier, will be among those picking the brains of new star Kyle Sinckler.
Aaron Thompson (SGS Filton College, prop – scholar)
Thompson made a real impact last year at loosehead for SGS Filton College and for Bristol Bears and will be eager to grasp this opportunity with both hands. With fellow SGS Filton men in Perry and Turner for company, the inter-club/school rivalry in the front row is going to be high in the Bristol Bears’ Academy this year!
Tom Cairns (Exeter College, scrum half)
What is it about Exeter Chiefs and young scrum halves with bags of leadership potential? Stuart Townsend first, then Jack Maunder, then his brother Sam, and now Tom Cairns. Cairns captained the Exeter U18 side with aplomb this year and was also called into the England squad, in a hugely competitive position this year. It is no surprise to see him get the call up to the senior academy, and his battle with those other young scrum halves is going to be a real treat for fans to witness.
Archie Hill (Exeter College, centre)
The Exeter College centre has been a fixture in the Exeter Chiefs U18 lineup and a star player within it, indeed so good was he that it earned him an England U18 call up. Stepping up to the Senior Academy should leave Chiefs fans with plenty of excitement as this talented young player aims to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Henry Slade and the now departed Sam Hill.
Harry Hocking (Truro College, prop/hooker)
Hocking was in the England age-grade squads this year and has been quite outstanding throughout his time at Truro College, as our soon to be released highlights package will demonstrate in the coming days. Hocking will be learning from some of the best, the Chiefs’ senior front row is packed with internationals and leadership experience and Hocking will certainly be drawing on that.
Iwan Jenkins (Y Pant, fly half)
Jenkins actually moved across from Y Pant ahead of 6th form and has been a part of the Exeter Chiefs set up since, starring in the U18 Academy League for them. He now makes the step up to the senior academy and is yet another in this Premiership wide class of fly half talent. Jenkins has the qualities to be one of the best about, and in Joe Simmonds a young fly half already in the senior 10 shirt to follow as a perfect example.
Christ Tschiunza (Whitchurch High School, second row)
The big Welsh second row was a superstar on the school scene in the last two years and was one of the most talked about names of the weekend at the prestigious St Joseph’s Festival in October. Exeter Chiefs have a classy player on their hands in Tschiunza and he is going to be one of the most exciting prospects in this 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership Senior Academy class.
Harry Wilkinson (Exeter College, prop)
Another superb young front rower, Wilkinson has been part of the England U18 set up and looks only set to kick on as he enters the senior academy. Rob Baxter knows a good front rower when he sees one and Exeter have allowed some players to move on, presumably in the knowledge that they have the likes of Wilkinson ready to come through and start banging down doors.
Stay tuned tomorrow when we will be looking at our next three teams worth of 2020/21 Senior Academy intakes, Gloucester Rugby, Harlequins, and Leicester Tigers.
The future is looking bright!