Suffolk set to produce rugby stars

NORTHAMPTON Saints Rugby Club have one of the most revered academy set-ups in the country - and the club's current Elite Player Development Group (EPDG) manager is based in Suffolk.

NORTHAMPTON Saints Rugby Club have one of the most revered academy set-ups in the country - and the club's current Elite Player Development Group (EPDG) manager is based in Suffolk.

Simon Sinclair will keep GrassRoots readers up-to-date over the coming weeks with all the latest junior rugby news. This week he kick-starts things with an introduction as to his role.

FOLLOWING three years' involvement in the Northampton Saints Academy, I have just taken on the role of Elite Player Development Group Manger for the eastern region at the club.

This means that I look after, coach and mentor these players from the age of 12 through to 16, helping them progress through to the Junior Saints Academy at Northampton Saints, where the players will continue their journey towards hopefully becoming a professional rugby player.

It's certainly a long road to becoming a professional and these elite players are all told that while they have the opportunity to make a living from the game there are no guarantees.

Because of that they are encouraged to get the best out of their education and they all realise how important this is as injuries do happen.

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Part of my role is to go and watch all our EPDG players represent their clubs and give them feedback on their performances.

So, yes, that means most Sundays I can be found standing on the side of rugby pitch watching and scouting for the next superstar.

The umbrella has been out already - the conditions at one match were abysmal and it ended 0-0 - but I always come away smiling.

It is great to see so many youngsters playing this beautiful game and to see the coaches and parents enjoying meeting up on a Sunday morning, often over coffee and bacon sandwiches, before the game.

Working with the academy makes it all worthwhile because I have now started to see some of the players that I have spotted and coached come through the system.

There is great personal satisfaction in seeing players develop and progress into the professional game - and let me tell you this region is producing some excellent players.

Last year two players from the EPDG got through to the England Under-16 group. Charlie Sadler and Michael Hayward have shown so much commitment over the past three years and really deserved their break.

They are now involved in the Junior Saints. Both are studying at Moulton College (affiliated to the Saints Academy) and training four times a week.

Charlie has already played two matches for the Saints 'A' side this year, against Bristol and Leeds, while Michael is on the verge of getting his opportunity. I am extremely proud of their achievements.

Other notable players who have come through the system are Steve Thompson, Ben Cohen and Dylan Hartley, who was on the bench for England against the Pacific Islands recently.

Liam Neill and Owen Giles are both from the region and in the Senior Academy, as is Anders Morgensen, a former pupil at the Royal Hospital School.

The future is bright for youth rugby in the region.

Over the coming months I am looking forward to helping promote rugby in the region. I will be profiling clubs in the area and looking at players within our EPDG and how they are progressing.

I will also be airing my views on other areas of the game, as well as giving everyone more of an insight as to what goes on behind the scenes at Northampton Saints.