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Monday’s U18 Academy Finals Day beckons for future rugby stars

Northampton Saints’ centre Harry Mallinder is just one former Premiership Rugby Under 18 Academy Finals Day star who has translated their success onto the senior stage.

And Mike Hynard, head of academies and development at Premiership Rugby, says that Monday’s Allianz Park showpiece will prove another window into a bright future.
Gloucester Rugby and London Irish top the bill as the only two teams to emerge from the season unbeaten – winners of the Northern Conference and Southern Conference respectively – though something will have to give as they face each other on Monday.
But before they do battle, Wasps and Leicester Tigers kick things off with a second against second battle, followed by a clash between third-place finishers Exeter Chiefs and Worcester Warriors.
What’s more, entrance to the event is free – and there is a real possibility that some of those who star will be involved in Aviva Premiership Rugby very soon.
Mallinder – who played in last year’s U18 Academy Finals Day – has recently made two 80-minute appearances for Saints and scored a match-winning late try against Glasgow Warriors in Europe last month.
And with the standard of competition rising each year, Hynard expects fans to be in for a treat on Monday.
“I am really excited,” admits Hynard. “We’ve got some fantastic teams playing and it has been a great competition this year.
“Exeter managed to qualify on points difference ahead of Saracens, and Sale just missed out on qualification when they were beaten by Northampton in the last of the pool matches which shows how tight, and what a brilliant competition it has been.
“Worcester against Exeter will be a great game, as will Leicester Tigers against Wasps and then of course there’s the final itself between London Irish and Gloucester, two unbeaten teams.
“You look at last year when Harry Mallinder played in the finals. Howard Packman has also been involved and those guys are now in Aviva Premiership Rugby, playing regularly and doing well.
“Monday is a chance for the young players to put themselves in the shop window for head coaches and academy directors to see what they can do and I’m sure that we will see some of the talent on show appearing in senior Aviva Premiership Rugby teams in the near future.”
Though the competition will be fierce on Monday, winning ultimately takes second place to individual development at this stage of a player’s career.
And, according to feedback from Premiership Rugby’s academy coaches, Hynard believes the tournament has fast become an important barometer for their sides.
“The U18 Academy competition is a development competition – not just for players but for coaches, support staff and match officials as well, which is what makes it so great,” added Hynard.
“For the players it is a real stepping stone and an opportunity for them to pull on their club jersey and represent their side.
“The whole aim of the competition when we set it up a few years ago was to provide an opportunity for the best U18s to play with and against the very best.
“For years, the academy managers including the likes of Dusty Hare, have been crying out for a competition like this.
“It’s a great vehicle to identify the Aviva Premiership Rugby players of the future. It’s a big step up from school or college level for these players but it is a step that’s needed to help identify those who will be able to make it.”
12.30pm: 3rd / 4th place play-off – Wasps v Leicester Tigers
2.30pm: 5th / 6th place play-off – Exeter Chiefs v Worcester Warriors
4.30pm: Under 18 Academy Competition Final – London Irish v Gloucester Rugby
The Premiership Rugby U18 Academy Competition Finals Day will take place at Allianz Park on Monday 15 February from 12.30pm to 6pm. Entrance is free of charge.

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