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Under 18s Academy Finals Day – Reaction: Harlequins’ Hennessey over the moon

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Harlequins’ centre Jake Hennessey was over the moon to cap off years of hard work by winning the Premiership Rugby U18 Academy final at Sixways on Thursday.

Sale Sharks were 8-0 up in the final after scrum-half Matt Sturgess dived over and Kieran Wilkinson kicked a penalty, but Quins came roaring back, scoring 20 unanswered points.

Fly-half Marcus Smith sparked the comeback with a penalty before half-time and Luke James went over after the break, before winger Miles McDuffus intercepted a loose pass to run in under the posts.

And Smith added both conversions, along with another penalty, as Quins clinched a 20-8 triumph.

Hennessey said: “We’ve put in so much hard work over the past couple of years and to finish my U18 year off with a great win here at Sixways is just brilliant, I am absolutely over the moon.

“It’s a great experience. It was a tense match, really physical, and Sale gave it everything and so did we but it’s great to come out on top and get a great win.

“We knew we hadn’t really hit our stride yet in the first half, so we just wanted to make sure we kept trying to get on the front foot and exploit the pace in our backs and run them out wide.

“I think we did that and we managed to get some gains there.”

Hennessey lavished praise on his team-mates after the final whistle and highlighted the big steps forward they have made over the season.

“To see how we have improved over the season has been great,” he added.

“We have all improved as rugby players but also improved in our team play and knowing when to kick, when to keep the ball and when to play quick, when to play slow and it showed. All that hard work and improvement has paid off.

“Everyone here playing on the pitch wants to have a successful career in rugby and I’m no different, that’s the dream for me.”

The players train once a week with Harlequins academy coach Howard Graham.

And Graham claims the fightback victory against Sharks was no less than his young troops deserved.

“They’ve played some excellent rugby this season and it was nice to be able to come here and put it on show and actually come out with a win,” explained Graham.

“To coach boys like this who want to be here and have got the athletic ability and the decision-making in their heads and it’s just a real pleasure.”

Harlequins 20
Tries: James, McDuffus
Conversions: Smith 2
Penalties: Smith 2

Sale Sharks 8
Tries: Sturgess
Penalties: Wilkinson

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