With the conclusion of the regular schools' rugby season, the U18 Academy League gets underway this week.
As ever, there are fourteen sides in the competition, the twelve Gallagher Premiership clubs plus London Irish and Yorkshire Carnegie from the Greene King IPA Championship.
The fourteen academies are split into two conferences of seven, North and South, and each side plays the other six sides in their conference once, giving us seven rounds of games – each side has one bye week.
Following the seven regular rounds, Allianz Park will once again host the U18 Academy League Finals Day on Sunday 17th February. The top side from each conference will meet in the U18 Academy League Final, second in each conference will play for 3rd place, and third, in each will play for 5th.
There are two small tweaks to the rules this year, rolling substitutes are now permitted, while the provision allowing for three U19s per matchday squad has now been removed.
Two rounds take place before Christmas, before Round 3 on the 5th/6th January and around every week from there bar the final week of January.
The northern conference looks strong this year, containing last year’s champions, Leicester Tigers, and the two sides that have dominated the England age-groups sides of the last 12 months, Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons.
Newcastle and Leicester actually meet this week, at 2 pm on Saturday at Kingston Park. Both sides contain some brilliant players, not least the Newcastle backline with the likes of Obonna, Haydon-Wood, and Cooke. Leicester Tigers meanwhile are skippered by openside Sam Eveleigh and have some huge talents such as George Martin and James Whitcombe in the pack. Norwich’s Freddie Steward meanwhile is a man to watch in the backline, he has been key to his school’s stunning season.
Sale Sharks meanwhile will round the whole weekend off at 2 pm on Sunday when they host Wasps at Manchester Metropolitan University. Raffi Quirke skippers Sale from 9, leading a side packed with talent not least in the form of Tom Curtis and Tom Roebuck in the backline among others. Wasps too are bubbling with talent and boast a really strong back row, with skipper Tunney at 6, Eckersley at 7, and Jakobsen at 8.
The third game in the North sees Yorkshire Carnegie host Worcester Warriors at Headingley on Saturday morning, 10.30. Yorkshire is skippered by England U18 international Archie Smeaton at openside and boast real talent across the side including the exciting Dan Lancaster at fly-half, who is also vice-captain, and Woodhouse Grove star Joe Carpenter at fullback. Worcester meanwhile is a bit hampered by injury but still boast a seriously exciting side, drawing heavily on Bromsgrove, Warwick, and new AASE side Stourport High School. Solihull’s Lewis Holsey at loosehead among the others who could impress up against as all AASE Yorkshire front row.
Northampton Saints sit this round out before kicking off their campaign at home to Leicester Tigers next weekend.
The Southern Conference kicks the whole 2018 U18 Academy League off when Gloucester host Saracens at Hartpury College on Friday evening, 7 pm. Gloucester was devastatingly good last year and have bundles of promise again this year, Joe Howard captains them from blindside flanker and is among a number of players to watch, not least George Barton at fly-half and Jack Clement at number 8. Saracens meanwhile are not lacking for talent themselves at fly-half where George Barton’s namesake, Josh, of Berkhamsted will run the show for Saracens. Dulwich College’s Max Bliss is an exciting runner, while Felsted’s Oliver Stonham captains the side from number 8.
On Saturday Harlequins host Bristol bears at Surrey Sports Park, kicking off at 1.30pm. Harlequins’ side is packed with exciting talent, among them, Hampton fullback Louis Lynagh. Wellington College’s Tobias Scalabrini is in the side after his stunning try in the Champions Trophy final against Epsom College, so too his teammate Fin Baxter, who this week has become the subject of a viral physics equation from that game. Bristol too, has selected an exciting team and Tom Jones captains them from the outside centre. He forms an exciting centre partnership with Harry Ascherl, while the half-back pairing of England U18 scrum half Blake Boyland and Wales U18 fly half Ioan Lloyd ought to light up the field of play magnificently.
Finally to Hazelwood on Saturday at 1 pm where London Irish will host Exeter Chiefs. Neither club has named their side as yet, but with both having superb reputations at academy level over the last few years we can be certain that there will be some stellar performances from within their lineups from players that we can expect so see in a first XV shirt sooner rather than later.
Bath the first side with a bye week in the Southern Conference, their campaign begins next weekend at home to Exeter Chiefs.
U18 Academy League Round 1 Fixtures:
Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers – Saturday, 2 pm, Kingston Park
Sale Sharks v Wasps – Sunday, 2 pm, Manchester Met University
Yorkshire Carnegie v Worcester Warriors – Saturday, 10.30am, Headingley
Bye Week – Northampton Saints
Gloucester v Saracens – Friday, 7 pm, Hartpury College
Harlequins v Bristol Bears – Saturday, 1.30pm, Surrey Sports Park
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs – Saturday, 1 pm, Hazelwood
Bye Week – Bath
Article by: http://www.fifteenrugby.com