In Parts 1 and 2 of our Gallagher Premiership Senior Academy intake series we looked at the school leavers joining Bath Rugby, Bristol Bears, Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester, Harlequins, and Leicester Tigers.
Today in Part 3 we turn our attention to London Irish, Northampton Saints, Wasps, and Worcester Warriors and the very exciting crop of school leavers that will be realising their schoolboy dream as they become professional rugby players for the 2020/21 season.
If you want to check our Parts 1 and 2, just follow the links below:
Today is Part 3 we focus on four teams, London Irish, Northampton Saints, Wasps, and Worcester Warriors, while we wait until next week and Part 4 to take a look at the remaining Senior Academies, Sale Sharks, Saracens, and Newcastle Falcons, who are yet to announce their Senior Academy intakes for 2020/21.
Joe Vajner (Whitgift, hooker)
As mentioned in previous articles, the hooker position is one of the most competitive in the country, but Vajner could be just about the best of the lot. He captained Whitgift to the Schools Cup final, which was sadly lost to COVID, was a key figure for London Irish U18 in their shared U18 Academy League title, and earned an England U18 call up. Vajner has a tough as nails tight game but is a hugely exciting loose game and is a serious leader, watching him operate during a game is always highly impressive. One for Exiles fans to be excited about.
Lucas Brooke (Wellington College, back row)
If you think Lucas’ surname it familiar, it is. He is the son of All Black legend and lover of the long-range drop goal, Zinzan. Like his father he plays in the back row but is primarily a blindside and played at hooker often for Wellington College last year as a key player en route to their Champions Trophy and St Joseph’s Festival double. Not often in the headlines but one of the most valued players by coaches and players alike and was named player of the season by his school teammates. If ever there were a position suited to that type of reputation it is blindside, and Brooke has all the potential to be a real star in the Exiles’ back row.
William Joseph (Millfield, centre)
Another familiar looking surname, Joseph is the younger brother of Bath and England centre Jonathan. Like his brother he was a star for Millfield School and joins London Irish as a pro straight from school. He was a key figure for Millfield, London Irish U18, and England U18 in the last two years despite being in such a fiercely competitive position, and at school has plenty of experience playing at fly half too, which only serves to highlight the range of his skills. Indeed it was his skill and vision that saw him score against Sedbergh at the tail end of the season to seal victory for the Somerset men. A hugely exciting talent who moves with the ball in hand in a way that will be instantly recognisable to all, he is a real star of the future.
George Davis (St Paul’s Catholic College, back row)
Davis is one of 4 players to graduate from the London Irish AASE side, St Paul’s Catholic College, into the Senior Academy. The flying back row has bags of pace and an appetite for work that makes him seem omnipresent on the field. Davis has plenty of good knowledge to feed off in the London Irish ranks, not least Ireland and Lions legend, Sean O’Brien, and will doubtless be eager to pick up as much info as possible as he seeks to break into the 1st XV.
Tarek Haffar (St Paul’s Catholic College, prop)
Haffar put in one of the most physically dominant performances of the season in the AASE League final back in December, and in all honesty it was a performance typical of him. The loosehead has been one of the most destructive ball carriers in school rugby in the 2019/20 season and unsurprisingly he earned himself an England U18 call up and now a London Irish Senior Academy contract. If he continues to progress as he has, the rest of the league are going to have quite the frightening proposition running at them in the years to come.
Michael Dykes (St Paul’s Catholic College, wing)
Dykes toured South Africa last summer with England U18 and starred for his school and the London Irish U18 side before his 2019/20 season was hampered a little by injury. An exciting winger, London Irish have a talent on their hands and a player in the back three well used to working in tandem with fellow Senior Academy new boy, Alexander Harmes. A player to really keep an eye on as he blossoms.
Alexander Harmes (St Paul’s Catholic College, wing)
For Harmes, read Dykes. Their last two seasons have, from the outside at least, been remarkably similar. Harmes is another hugely exciting player in the back field and a hugely talented all-rounder, top level hockey was another option for him and he comes from a family of sprinters. London Irish have been well known for producing exciting young wingers in recent times, Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasiga, and Marland Yarde to name just three, so there is no doubt that Harmes will have plenty of expert direction for his position.
Callum Burns (Northampton School for Boys, hooker)
Another excellent young hooker in this year’s intake, Burns captained both Northampton Saints U18s and his school, Northampton School for Boys, in 2019/20. He led his school to the Schools Cup semi finals and was, naturally, a key figure. His progress has been rapid in the last couple of years and if he carries along on that trajectory then Northampton Saints are going to have a very handy player indeed in their ranks.
Ethan Grayson (Northampton School for Boys, centre)
Son of Saints legend Paul and brother of current star James, Ethan is slightly different to his borther and father in that he has been signed primarily as a centre. Through his time with Northampton School for Boys and Northampton Saints U18s he has often stepped into the fly half role, but it is at centre where the club see his future. Supremely talented and unafraid to step up physically, Grayson played for England U18 in South Africa last summer and has been in all of the squads through the 2019/20 season, no mean feat anyway but even more so this year given the competition in the 10/12 channel. It may not be too long before we see an all Grayson 10/12 axis for Northampton Saints.
Tom Litchfield (Samuel Whitbread, centre)
Litchfield first came to high profile school rugby prominence in Samuel Whitbread’s run to the U18 Schools Vase title in 2019 and he has gone from strength to strength since with another strong school season in 2019/20 and an U18 Academy League season in which he was an ever-present for Northampton Saints’ U18s. A big strong carrier and defender, Litchfield is also a gifted offloader and a man that his teammates will love playing off.
Dani Long-Martinez (Norwich, wing)
Long-Martinez is a real wingers winger, a rapid outside back with a nose for the try line, highlighted by his feat of scoring in every U18 Academy League game. The Norwich School star was called up to the England U18 squad this year but the real story comes in how late he was spotted, with was at the Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s in 2019 that he was spotted and invited to join the Saints Academy. From there his rise has been as fast as his feet and if he carries on at this pace he could well find himself knocking on the first team door before too long.
Kayde Sylvester (Bedford, second row/back row)
Bedford School might not have had their best couple of seasons in the last two years, but they continue to produce outstanding players as Kayde Sylvester joins the ranks of Old Bedfordians such as Fraser Dingwall and George Furbank in the Northampton Saints squad. The second row/back row had a fast rise, playing U18 Academy League rugby as a 16-year-old, however injury pretty much decimated his 2019/20 season. Nevertheless Saints are hugely excited about him and he is fit and ready to begin his professional career, Saints fans should definitely keep an eye on Sylvester’s progress.
Charlie Atkinson (Abingdon, fly half)
Over and over again in this series we mention just how good this year’s fly half intake is, and in Charlie Atkinson Wasps might well have one of the very best. Indeed, so good is he that for the restart of the Gallagher Premiership season he will be joining the senior squad, only linking with the academy for his strength and conditioning and the medical side. A stunning achievement for a young man only six weeks after leaving school. It really tells you all you need to know about both the rugby player and the character of this outstanding fly half, who was been sublime for Abingdon, Wasps U18, and England U18 in the course of the last few years. Wasps fans should be immensely excited about Atkinson and the potential he has.
Dan Eckersley (Bloxham, hooker)
Eckersley follows in the footsteps of another Bloxham old boy and hooker, Alfie Barbeary. Barbeary finished school in 2019 and a year on has been moved into the senior squad, and now Eckersley comes into the Senior Academy. Eckersley has spent the bulk of his career at openside and earned an England U18 call up there, however Wasps see his future at hooker, which could see a cracking battle between the two former Bloxham men for the number 2 shirt in future. Another young Wasps star that should have supporters full of excitement about his future.
Robin Hardwick (Rugby, prop)
Hardwick has been a key figure in Rugby School’s superb form in the last couple of years, form that was built around a seriously tough pack in which he was a crucial figure. Son of former pro prop Rob Hardwick and brother to Leicester Tigers fly half, Tom, Robin Hardwick certainly knows about the professional rugby environment and has all the ability to make a huge success of it. His potential is clear, England U18 call ups an obvious early sign of that, and he will doubtless be pushing hard to follow in his brothers footsteps and to break into the first team.
Toby Baldwin (Rugby, wing)
The Rugby School pack might have been their dominant feature in the past couple of years, but the backs were not too shabby either, not least Toby Baldwin. His exploits helped his side to the Champions Trophy final and Wasps will be hoping that his clear potential translates into the pro environment. There are only five out and out wingers in the Wasps squad, three of whom are young and up and coming, that gives Baldwin a huge amount of scope to make a big impression and push hard to senior appearances quickly.
Ollie Hartley (Whitgift, centre)
Hartley is a wonderfully balanced rugby player, highly skilled, with good pace, and physically dominant. In Whitgift’s U18 Schools Cup semi final win over Sherborne he stood out tremendously, despite a tricky school season for him. Most at home at centre but highly adept at full back too, Hartley is also a part of the England age-grade setup, and such are his blend of attributes that he seems like a player that really could make a mark in the senior game.
Nic Jakobsen (Bromsgrove, back row)
The former Bromsgrove back rower has been an absolute feature in the back row for Wasps U18 over the last few years and unsurprisingly makes the step into the Senior Academy. He has been outstanding for his school, too, and has helped them over the line in some key fixtures in the last couple of seasons. The back row at Wasps is going to be a fantastic place to develop his game even further, too, with the likes of the Willis brothers and Thomas Young to learn from, not to mention the experience of Brad Shields. It should be a hugely exciting time for Jakobsen.
Oliver Wynn (Bromsgrove, scrum half)
It’s no surprise that the Worcester Warriors U18 half backs and centres have all progressed to the pro ranks and that all starts with scrum half Oliver Wynn. A star for Bromsgrove and Worcester U18 and called into the England U18 squad too before COVID rather spoiled the party there. A prodigious talent and highly rated, Wynn played in the Premiership Rugby 7s as a schoolboy last year and Worcester will undoubtedly be hugely excited about what the young tyro can do going forward.
Fin Smith (Warwick, fly half)
We continually keep talking about the fly half crop in this years group of school leavers, and in Fin Smith Worcester Warriors might just have the best of the lot. A wonderful outside half, Smith guided Warwick to the Schools Cup final this year only to see COVID curtail plans there, a problem that also denied him his England U18 cap after selection there. He has starred in every team he has played for in this last season, including for Worcester Warriors’ U18s, for whom he was an ever-present. Worcester fans have every reason to be very, very, excited.
Seb Atkinson (Bromsgrove, centre)
Another absolute star in this Worcester Warriors intake, Atkinson is a wonderful player and an equally wonderful leader. He captained his school side, the Worcester U18 side, and before the tail end of the season was lost to the virus, he was all set to captain England U18. That really tells you all that you need to know about the gifted inside centre, he leads. Not just through his words but through deed, and it is no surprise to see those that played alongside him blossoming too.
Harry Spencer (Warwick, centre)
The outside centre in this group of four outstanding backs that have been handed Senior Academy contracts. Spencer starred for Warwick en route to their place in the U18 Schools Cup final and was a star for the Worcester Warriors U18 side too, finishing the U18 Academy League season as their top try scorer and surely set for England U18 honours before the season was lost. A hugely exciting prospect.
Ben Murphy (KES Five Ways, prop)
The first player not from Bromsgrove or Warwick on this year’s Worcester Warriors list, Murphy played his school rugby at KES Five Ways and has been a cornerstone of the Warriors’ pack right through the age groups. A Wales U18 cap was looking highly likely for him until the virus stuck and forced the U18 Six Nations Festival to be cancelled.
Mitch Reeve (Solihull, prop)
Reeve has been packing down on the other side of the scrum to Murphy but the Solihull School leaver can actually play on either side of the scrum – a rare virtue in today’s game. A beast with the ball in hand, Reeve is a seriously fun player to watch, however his basics are well covered, too, as many an opponent in the scrum during the U18 Academy League season would confirm.
Joe Richardson (King’s Worcester, hooker)
Richardson makes it a full set of front row players that are awarded Senior Academy contracts at Worcester Warriors for the 2020/21 season. A fierce competitor, Richardson was a key player as King’s Worcester enjoyed a good season that included them winning their Modus Cup, their key derby fixture against old rivals RGS Worcester at Sixways. Working as a unit with his U18 Academy League front row partners should be fun, and there is plenty of promise in the young hooker’s future.
Jack Forsythe (Warwick, back row)
Forsythe has the appearance of a top player in the making, dominant from as early as U15s in Warwick’s Schools Cup run, he progressed to become captain of their 1st XV, only for injury to rather spoil his season as the side reached the U18 Schools Cup final in his absence. Nevertheless it is a sign of the quality he has shown throughout school that he was still touted, despite so little game time, as probably the best back row player in his age grade and was a part of the England U18 squad ahead of the cancelled U18 Six Nations Festival, having made his debut on the tour of South Africa. A hugely exciting player.
Next up in our series we will be looking at Newcastle Falcons, Sale Sharks, and Saracens, just as soon as they announce their Senior Academy intake for 2020/21.
In the meantime, do check out our previous two articles in this series, covering Bath Rugby, Bristol Bears, Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester Rugby, Harlequins, and Leicester Tigers.