Premiership Rugby Shield hailed as ‘a great competition’
Northampton Wanderers academy head coach Mark Hopley has lauded the pivotal role that the Premiership Rugby Shield has played in developing academy talent.
The Wandies are the two-time defending champions after defeating Exeter Braves at Franklin’s Gardens in April.
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And Northampton’s Hopley believes the competition will continue to provide a pathway for young players to achieve future Gallagher Premiership Rugby success.
“It is a great competition as it’s an opportunity for our young players to make the most of playing against really good opposition,” said Hopley.
“In terms of player pathway, it is an excellent way of bringing players through the academy.
“Young players develop by getting playing time and competing against the best and this competition allows players to get time playing against Test players if they are coming back from an injury.
“It allows us to improve players in a Northampton way. We can properly coach them and help improve them as players and help their development.”
Previously titled the A League, the Premiership Rugby Shield has been reformatted to feature two conferences of six teams.
The competition benefits clubs by allowing sides to keep academy prospects in a club environment while providing players with opportunities to showcase their talent.
With the competition structured around England Under-20 fixtures, players avoid clashes with international duties, much to the delight of Northampton’s head academy coach Hopley.
“The Shield lets our young England U20s players get game time around playing for their nation. If they can play for us and then go away and play internationally, it benefits both the club and the players.”
Not just benefiting Gallagher Premiership Rugby players, the tournament provides opportunities for up and coming coaches to learn their trade.
After their recent successes, the Wandies are now focusing on attempting to clinch a hat-trick of Premiership Rugby Shield victories.
“For young coaches the shield is an opportunity to improve their standard of coaching,” said Hopley.
“For coaches like myself we do a lot of planning. This competition allows them to plan during the week and learn from other coaches around them and then apply themselves to matchdays to get results.”
“We have always taken this competition seriously and we want to win the Shield again.
“You never know how you will get on until you get playing in the competition, but traditionally we have been a strong side at getting players through to the first team off the back of these matches.
“With a younger side than last year, the Premiership Rugby Shield is a perfect place for them to come in. They are going to learn from the matches. We hope it will allow us to get them into the first team in the long term.”