Saracens academy manager Don Barrell admits the pressure of the Premiership Rugby / RFU U18 Academy Finals Day at Allianz Park could bring the best out of his players.
Barrell’s side take on Northampton Saints on home soil on Monday – pitting the two best Academy teams this season against each other for 1st and 2nd place.
Sarries topped the Southern Conference with five wins while the Saints comfortably swept through the Northern Conference, winning all six matches.
As they prepare for the showpiece event, Barrell says the chance to play at the club’s home ground adds an extra dimension to the occasion.
“It’s really exciting for all of us,” said Barrell.
“I think the occasion is great for the players to go and play under some pressure, to play in front of a good crowd and be part of such a great environment at Allianz Park.
“To play up there is a great opportunity for them and I think the young guys are looking forward to it.
“The Premiership Rugby / RFU U18 Academy League is a chance to develop players and for us it has not been based on the results, it’s been based on the effort they have put in and the work and willingness they have shown to develop and improve. So this is another opportunity for them to do that on the finals stage.”
Saracens Academy possesses some exceptional quality, with the likes of Ralph Adams-Hale, Dominic Morris and Matt Gallagher having gained first-team and 7s experience this season.
Gallagher – the joint-leading try-scorer in this season’s Premiership Rugby / RFU U18 Academy League with five – will prove particularly crucial to Sarries’ chances of beating a tough Northampton side.
Saints finished seven points clear of their nearest opponents Leicester Tigers in the Northern Conference and Barrell is wary of their threat.
“I think they are blessed with a strong team and have done really well in this league,” he added.
“Saints have done incredibly well with their youngsters and I think as a collective they need to be given respect for what they have done.
“But our focus is more on our own performance and what we do on the day. From day one we’ve gone out to see how they work, how they perform as a group and how they make decisions and they’ve worked very hard.
“The impressive thing has been the group as a whole and their willingness to support each other and react under pressure so they all deserve credit.”
1pm: Gloucester Rugby v Exeter Chiefs (5th / 6th play-off)
3pm: Bath Rugby v Leicester Tigers (3rd / 4th play-off)
5pm: Northampton Saints v Saracens (Final)
The Premiership Rugby / RFU U18 Academy Finals Day will take place on Monday, 16 February at Allianz Park. Entry is free with gates opening at 11.30am with the first game kicking off at 1pm.