Northampton Saints have announced that five schoolboys have signed professional terms and will join the club’s Senior Academy for the 2021/22 season.
Saints become the second Gallagher Premiership club to confirm their Senior Academy intake early this year, following Wasps announcing their intake last week.
Geordie Irvine, Emeka Atuanya, Tom Lockett, Matthew Arden, and Jake Garside will all be promoted from the Junior to the Senior Academy on 1st July, becoming fully fledged professionals.
All five have previously been selected at age-grade international level, Lockett with Wales, and Irvine, Atuanya, Arden, and Garside with England.
Atuanya and Lockett are both locks, Atuanya hails from Northampton School for Boys and stands at a dominant 6’7”, commenting on him, Saints DPP Manager James Craig said: “We wanted to sign Emeka based on a combination of his physical potential and rugby ability. He’s got great soft skills, so he’s excellent in attack, and he has the potential to be physically dominant at the senior level. He’s already shown us he has the capability to offload well, and when he’s doing his set-piece work he takes information in and learns it very quickly.”
Lockett meanwhile was only spotted by Saints as an U17 at Colchester RGS, and is a monstrous 6’8” tall, speaking about him, Craig said: “Tom was in Colchester’s football academy until he was 16, we picked him up in his under-17 year, so he’s only been with us around 18 months. He’s similar to Emeka in that he is athletic with significant physical potential, and his development over the year-and-a-half he’s been in our set-up has been so fast – with no sign of slowing down – that it was a no-brainer for us to want to see how far he can go in the coming years.”
Irvine is the third forward to be signed on pro terms, the Oundle School back row has been a key leader through the age-groups for Saints, as Craig alluded to: “What makes Geordie stand out is the leadership capability he has shown already, he is a calming influence around our under-18 group and builds really good relationships with other players, so we think he’ll be able to do some great things off the back of that. As a player he is really effective in the wider channels, which for our back-row forwards is important. Physically, he’s got great attributes to work with; he’s very quick for such a tall player, and is a really athletic lineout jumper. The pleasing thing is that whenever he’s had a step-up in level to make, he’s thrived and is always looking to learn from every experience presented to him.”
The two backs signed up to the Senior Academy are half back partners Matthew Arden and Jake Garside. Stamford School fly half Arden is one of a number of players at the school that will surely earn pro contracts at various clubs in the next few months. Saints’ Junior Academy Development Manager Will Parkin is certainly impressed by him, saying in the Saints press release: “Matty is one of the very best in terms of his vision and ability to play to space that has come through the Academy, he is exceptional when it comes to putting others into space, which is a huge threat alongside his own skill with the ball in hand, and being able to kick accurately off both feet. He speaks to his teammates really well and controls the game from fly-half, so he’s been really impressive to watch in his development so far.”
Jake Garside, meanwhile, is a scrum half hailing from Norwich School, whose recent products include Leicester Tigers’ Freddie Steward and Garside’s soon to be Senior Academy teammate, Dani Long-Martinez. Of Garside, Parkin said: “Jake’s athleticism, specifically his speed, is seriously impressive, so hopefully he can continue to develop in that area. He is a skilful No.9 too, with his delivery and variety of kicking really standing out. He’s a tenacious lad which comes through in his play, and while he’s definitely got some bits to work on in terms of his game understanding and the way he controls things, he’s come the whole way through our programme which is testament to his hard work, not least because he and his family have had to contend with a six-hour round trip just to get to training. I’m excited to see how good he can be within a full-time environment.”
Alongside those five, Northampton Saints have also confirmed the signing of 20 year old back row Duane Ratu Willemsen, cousin of Nemani Nadolo. He joins the senior academy with immediate effect and will shortly begin training with the first team after finishing quarantine having moved from Australia to join Saints.
Northampton Saints U18s promoted to Senior Academy:
Northampton School for Boys