Northampton Saints Academy coach Mark Hopley says his young side are eyeing revenge when they take on Saracens at the Premiership Rugby / RFU U18 Academy Finals Day next Monday.
Northampton U18s went down 32-10 to Sarries in a December friendly but after topping the Northern and Southern Conferences respectively, the sides will square off again at Allianz Park for 1st and 2nd place.
Saints won all six of their Northern Conference contests, conceding an average of just over seven points a game, to reach the showpiece event where they will be aiming to defend their title.
They overcame Exeter Chiefs 31-18 to lift the trophy 12 months ago and although the likes of leading try-scorer Rotimi Segun, Luc Jeannot and Harry Mallinder, son of director rugby Jim, could play in their second Finals Day, it will be a first for most of the squad.
“A few players had that experience last year and were lucky enough to be on a winning team but there are a lot of young players in the team who haven’t had that experience,” said Hopley.
“So, it’s a different squad, a different team and lots of different players to work with which is great for us.
“Saracens are incredibly well-organised – we played them just before Christmas and we were on the receiving end of a bad scoreline that day.
“They put one over on us and we’ll be working to put that right but all we can do is focus on ourselves.
“We have just talked about development really – as long as we learn from our mistakes and get better with each performance, then as coaches we are happy.
“The guys don’t need any motivation from me for the game – they’re an immensely competitive group and they want to do well.”
In addition to the showpiece game, the two second-placed sides – Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby – will square off against each other for 3rd and 4th as will the third-placed teams, Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs, for 5th and 6th.
Hopley insists that the whole experience of Finals Day is no less than the youngsters deserve after a successful season.
“They’ve worked really hard all year,” added Hopley. “We talk about getting better and better as the season progresses and I think we’ve done that.
“The boys have been training exceptionally well and we’re looking forward to it.
“Last year, the Premiership Rugby / RFU U18 Academy Finals Day was a brilliant experience and I think the benefit of playing at Allianz Park is that you know the pitch is going to be consistent.
“It should be a good, dry, fast track and our boys will thoroughly enjoy playing on it.”
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.