Round 20 of the Gallagher Premiership saw plenty of action from young stars with each game featuring U21 players.
Worcester vs Leicester was the highlight of the weekend with both sides employing youngsters that will almost certainly go on to become club stalwarts and with just two rounds to go, we may see even more prospects as teams in the top 4 rest veterans in preparation for the play-offs.
Gloucester vs London Irish
Stephen Varney – Scrum half
Louis Rees-Zammit – Wing
After few opportunities to attack in the first half, Rees-Zammit came into the game more after the break. The winger linked up well with fellow Hartpury graduate Varney who spread the ball quickly before he squeezed through a trio of defenders and reached over the line. Coming on at half time, the scrum half added pace to the Gloucester attack which saw them take the win with the clock in the red and also kept Irish honest around the ruck after a nice break inside their 22.
Ben Donnell – Back row
Phil Cokanasiga – Centre
Peter Symonds College product Donnell was a stand-out for the visitors in a tight affair at Kingsholm. Making his mark on both sides of the ball, the flanker topped his teammates with 78 metres made and showed excellent pace on one break down the wing. In defence, Donnell made 17 tackles and demonstrated his athleticism and stellar work rate for the full 80 minutes – chasing down ball carriers, taking high balls and contesting breakdowns. Also starting, Cokanasiga played inside centre and his power and ability to distribute were evident on occasion until the former St Paul’s Catholic player was substituted shortly after half time.
Sale vs Bristol
Bevan Rodd – Loosehead prop
James Harper – Tighthead prop
Raffi Quirke – Scrum half
Connor Doherty – Centre
Loosehead Bevan Rodd stood out in Sale’s fierce defence against the league leaders with the former Sedbergh pupil showing off his athleticism to get off the line to shut down ball carriers while also proving to be a menace at the breakdown throughout the game. Rodd’s front row colleague, Harper came on in the 68th minute and held up in the scrum while also impressing with a late carry – the Merchant Taylor’s School product used a strong fend before showing a burst of pace to break the line.
Starting at inside centre, former St Ambrose College star Doherty played a significant role in his team’s defensive effort with physicality and accuracy in the tackle with Bristol dominating possession. The youngster was substituted for the return of Manu Tuilagi just after half time. Another St Ambrose graduate, Quirke also impressed in the 2nd half with his side not missing a beat after replacing De Klerk. The scrum half was sharp with his delivery and threatening around the fringes, with a couple of terrific breaks, including a Dupont-esque dart through the middle finished off by bumping off the tackle of Lloyd.
Ioan Lloyd – Wing
Introduced after just 2 minutes, Lloyd came on for the injured Morahan and played the rest of the match on the right wing. The Clifton College product didn’t have a huge amount of opportunities to attack down his wing but did show a couple of glimpses of his abilities with ball in hand and finished a superb try in the corner using his pace and footwork to keep defenders guessing.
Harlequins vs Bath
Max Ojomoh – Centre
Playing the full match at inside centre, Ojomoh came alive in the 2nd half as Bath roared back into the contest. Once of King Edward’s School, the centre had a try disallowed in the corner after the most subtle of knock-ons before making up for it with a sublime miss pass to set up a try on the other side of the pitch. This sparked a number of other quality passes and offloads with the playmaker gaining in confidence as the game went on. Bath fans will be keen to see more of Ojomoh and more performances like this one will certainly mitigate the loss of Redpath going into next season. Unfortunately Orlando Bailey didn’t make it off the bench in this game.
Worcester vs Leicester
Fin Smith – Fly half
Harri Doel – Wing
Noah Heward – Wing
Fly half Smith had a bright start to the contest with an excellent flat pass to set up a try out wide and looked comfortable controlling the attack before being substituted in the 2nd half for Duncan Weir. The Warwick School alumnus looked strong in the carry and brave consistently taking the ball to the line; eventually leading to him feeding Hill for a clean break and try. Welsh winger Doel really made his mark after a couple of tougher games for Warriors. The Coleg Sir Gar product topped all players with 94 metres made and his pace and lateral quickness were obvious throughout the game and frequently posed problems for Leicester defenders. Solihull School old boy Heward was brought on in the final minutes on the wing but unfortunately wasn’t able to get his hands on the ball to impact the game.
James Whitcombe – Loosehead prop
Cameron Henderson – Lock
George Martin – Back row
Jack Van Poortvliet – Scrum half
Dan Kelly – Centre
Starting at lock, Henderson worked hard on both sides of the ball and was used often as a line out option but on the whole, it was a quieter game from the former Strathallan student who was substituted on the hour mark and he will now be looking to build some momentum before heading into his first training camp with Scotland. Former Kirkham schoolboy Kelly was the other starter and played the full match at inside centre having established a fairly settled partnership with Matt Scott now. The Irishman started the game with an excellent turnover on his own line and carried powerfully in the 2nd half in a performance that has now become the base level for what fans have come to expect.
Introduced in the 2nd half, former Oakham pupil Van Poortvliet was typically energetic but also impressed with his control and management in a tight contest. The scrum half was smart with his kicking and chose his moments to slow the game when necessary. Once of Woodhouse Grove, James Whitcombe contributed late in the game in defence and helped to earn a key scrum penalty late in the game to relieve pressure on his side. England cap Martin was also brought off the bench and was active on both sides of the ball but stood out less than in previous appearances. The Brooksby Melton old boy was, nonetheless, an eager ball carrier and energetic defender in the final quarter.
Northampton vs Wasps
Emmanuel Iyogun – Loosehead prop
Ollie Sleightholme – Wing
Tommy Freeman – Fullback
Both of Northampton’s young backs played the full match and were extremely impressive. Ollie Sleightholme could have been awarded Man of the Match for his efforts with the former Northampton School for Boys star a constant threat with his pace in attack and work rate in defence. Two stand out moments were a length of the field try that was unfortunately called back and a chase down of Josh Bassett to save a try made with relative ease. Moulton College old boy, Freeman, was a real asset in attack, finishing with 6 defenders beaten. A break from deep in his own half after stepping off both feet being a particular highlight. 20-year-old loosehead Iyogun was brought on in the final 10 minutes and brought energy as Northampton sealed the win with the former St Joseph’s man contributing 6 tackles in his short time on the pitch.
Charlie Atkinson – Fullback
Starting at fullback once again and playing the full 80 minutes, Atkinson played well as his team’s second playmaker. The former Abingdon student made an unfortunate error regathering an awkward kick resulting in a try and yellow card for Umaga but almost immediately made amends – stepping into the fly half berth with an exceptional kick to touch that led to a try and then followed up with the conversion. The 19-year-old also showed he has more to his game than just quality distribution and kicking with a number of carries displaying his strength and footwork to rack up 91 metres and break the line multiple times.
Exeter vs Newcastle
Rob Farrar – Lock
Will Montgomery – Lock
Tom Marshall – Back row
Will Haydon-Wood – Fly half
Chidera Obonna – Wing
It was always going to be a tough outing for Newcastle’s youngsters away to Exeter and it will certainly be a learning experience for them. With very little possession, Sedbergh’s Rob Farrar played the full 80 and impressed with some of his open-field tackling and former RGS Newcastle man Obonna was full of energy to put pressure on Chiefs at times.
Gosforth Academy product, Marshall made his Premiership debut at the base of the scrum and made a respectable 10 tackles from the bench. Also making his debut, Sedbergh’s Will Haydon-Wood slotted in at fullback in the 2nd half and Kirkbie Kendal’s Will Montgomery came on at lock as well but with Chiefs firing on all cylinders, there were very few opportunities for the pair to make an impact.