Paul Hodgson believes everyone at London Irish deserves credit for their Premiership Rugby / RFU Under 18 Academy competition title – from the owners all the way down to the players who didn’t make the squad for the final at Allianz Park.
Hodgson stated days like yesterday, when Irish U18s beat Gloucester Rugby U18s 35-11 to be crowned champions, was the reason himself, Nick Kennedy and Declan Danaher returned to the club to help run the Academy.
And the former England scrum-half, who is the Academy’s backs coach, said: “Testament to [president] Mick Crossan and the other owners of the club, alongside [chief executive] Bob Casey right at the top. We’ve got them to thank because they have really started to invest again in that academy structure.
“When me, Nick Kennedy and Declan Danaher came back to the club, this was the type of day we wanted to be a part of.
“Our first team coaches really believe in the youth and we have had some of these players training alongside the first team, just to try and develop a clear transition. At other clubs you may not see that, but at London Irish there is a clear pathway.”
Hodgson added: “This win was as a collective. “It was really important for us as a squad, including the non-players tonight, the other guys who have contributed, not just in the other games, but also in training.
“We pick from a squad of 37 or 38 and every single one of those boys has contributed. It’s our gold group at the Academy, they have been absolute pleasure to coach this year.”
The final match of the Premiership Rugby Under 18 Academy Finals Day saw the Northern and Southern Conference winners go head-to-head, with both having finished the regular season unbeaten.
Gloucester took the lead but Irish went on to win in style, with Matt Kouris, Matt Williams, Harry Norton and Ollie Hasslle-Collins all touching down.
“I’m extremely happy to say the least. I just thought the performance in the final was as pleasing as the result,” he said.
“We made a promise to ourselves that we would continue doing what we have done in the previous six games, which is expressing ourselves.
“We try to make the environment of the boys’ training as enjoyable as possible and hopefully you saw that out on the pitch – just them enjoying playing rugby – which is fundamental for us.
“We play a lot of game-sense, small-sided conditioning games and I think that came across. You saw that anyone can play scrum-half, we play at such a quick tempo and can move the ball from the breakdown quickly, so the defence can’t react quick enough. It served us well.”