Alex Shaw

Premiership Academy Analysis

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After hours of trawling Premiership club websites, messages to players, coaches and agents and more time spent with Microsoft Excel than can be healthy, the finishing touches have finally been put to a database of the 500 current senior Premiership players.

In reality, only around 480 of those catalogued players will be on full senior deals, with a few handfuls of senior academy players slipped into senior squad lists for the 2017/18 season – or perhaps having agreed senior deals yet to be announced by the clubs – but in all those instances, they are players who regularly feature for their respective senior sides.

So, which academy has the most graduates playing in the Premiership?

Let’s take a look.

It is worth nothing that a number of players have spent time in two academies and in those cases, preference was given to the club they spent the longest at before signing a senior deal and/or they spent their U18 season at. For example, Joel Conlon joined the Saracens senior academy at the age of 21, but having spent more of his formative years at Exeter Chiefs, he is considered an Exeter product for the sake of this analysis.

Of the 500, it is also worth noting that 85 come under the heading of “Other” and have not been included. These include players to have been produced at semi-professional or amateur level, such as English clubs below the Greene King IPA Championship or local teams in the Pacific Islands, players who have converted from rugby league and players who signed pro deals straight from university and/or the armed forces.

The way the remaining 415 – who have all come through elite, professional academy set-ups – shape up is as follows:

As you can see – or can’t if your eyesight isn’t extremely sharp – Saracens lead the way with 30 products, with Sale, Leicester and Harlequins following them up with 24 graduates apiece.

Yorkshire Carnegie’s 20 graduates is particularly noteworthy, given that they aren’t even in the Premiership, whilst Wasps trail amongst current Premiership sides, with just 13 members of their academy on senior deals in the competition. In fact, the Sharks – of Durban, not Sale – are just one player behind Wasps as things stand.

The Sharks lead all foreign academies in the Premiership, with Western Province (10), Canterbury (9) and Wellington (8) not far behind them.

This doesn’t quite paint the full picture, as Premiership clubs will use players on senior academy deals – who are not included in this data – in their senior sides, whilst all of the players to have emerged from foreign academies will be playing on full senior deals. There are multiple players at every Premiership club on the cusp of signing senior deals, so these numbers can be boosted very quickly.

By the same token, Bath and Leicester are both reportedly chasing further reinforcements before the start of the season, so the number of graduates from foreign academies could also increase before the season kicks off in September.

This data covers a long period of time and may shine a favourable light on clubs that were producing significant numbers of players 10 years ago, but who have since taken their foot off the gas. If we look just at players born since 1990, it gives a more accurate representation of how clubs’ academies have been performing recently.

Introducing this age cut-off brings the number of players down to 284, with only 27 falling under the “Other” category. Given that all of these players have grown up in the professional era, it’s not too surprising that routes into rugby such as university and the armed forces are a lot less common.

Here is how the remaining 257 players measure up:

Again, Saracens lead the way with 24 graduates and maintain their lead of six graduates over their closest competitor, Sale.

Yorkshire Carnegie have fallen back slightly, with just 10 graduates – a likely symptom of their recent stints in the Championship – but they still lead Wasps, who continue to trail their Premiership rivals, with just nine graduates.

One significant change between the two sets of data is that, in the overall graph, the 14 Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) academies – the current 12 Premiership sides plus Bristol and Yorkshire Carnegie – accounted for 269 of the 500 Premiership players (including “Others”), which is 53.8% of senior players.

Looking at just the players born since 1990, 193 of the 284 have come through those PRL academies, which is a much higher representation of 68%.

The increasingly professional approach to the game will account for some of that, but it is to the credit of the Premiership academies that clubs are becoming increasingly reliant upon their own academies, despite the salary cap increases and ability to sign bigger names from the southern hemisphere.

We now take a club-by-club look at the individual situations of each of the 12 Premiership clubs.

Bath

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 18 (8th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 27.3% (6th)

Bath sit in the middle of the pack at the moment, but with Todd Blackadder looking to add resources from the southern hemisphere, that percentage of homegrown players in the senior squad is likely to drop further down before it begins to rise again.

Senior deals for Darren Atkins, Josh Bayliss and Gabriel Oghre over the next year would begin to redress it, but it will be a while before Bath are challenging at the top of this list.

It is beyond dispute, Bath have, of late, become a club that signs, rather than develops talent. Zach Mercer is the rather sizeable exception to this.

Exeter Chiefs

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 16 (10th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 26.1% (9th)

Exeter recruited significantly to help them consolidate their place in the Premiership and that still shows heavily in these numbers. Whilst high-profile players like Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade offered a facade that Exeter were a develop-first club, the majority of their title-winning side were not part of a homegrown core.

That said, last season we did begin to see Exeter’s next generation emerging. Jack Maunder, Stuart Townsend, Sam Simmonds and Sam Skinner all featured heavily whilst still on senior academy deals.

Exeter have those four listed with their senior squad and were thus counted among the 500 senior Premiership players, so don’t expect these numbers to make a leap anytime soon.

Gloucester

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 19 (T-6th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 26.3% (T-7th)

Gloucester are a club who you can expect to make a sizeable leap in these rankings over the coming years. Their senior academy is loaded with players capable of making an impact at Premiership level and who warrant senior deals over the next season or two.

Incoming head coach Johan Ackermann built a reputation for developing and improving players during his time at the Lions and given the talent Gloucester have in their academy, this seems to be a match made in heaven.

The likes of Charlie Beckett, Joe Mullis, Harry Randall and the front row trio of Henry Walker, Alex Seville and Ciaran Knight could all be in line for senior deals this year if they impress Ackermann.

Harlequins

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 24 (T-2nd)

% of senior squad homegrown: 40% (2nd)

Quins keeping plodding along at the top and have been the most consistent English academy of the professional era. For much of that time, they would have had a stranglehold on top spot and it’s only the rise of Saracens over the last five or six years that has seen them relinquish their place at the summit.

Archie White, Sam Aspland-Robinson and Gabriel Ibitoye can follow in the footsteps of recent graduates like James Chisholm and Joe Marchant this coming season, whilst the pair of John Okafor and Marcus Smith potentially fill positions of need for Quins, but may have to wait till 2018/19 for senior deals.

Quins should continue to push Saracens over the next few years.

Leicester Tigers

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 24 (T-2nd)

% of senior squad homegrown: 32.4% (4th)

It is impressive that Leicester have the 4th highest percentage of homegrown players in the Premiership, especially when you consider the amount of academy players that have left the club in recent years.

With the roster looking a little thin, most notably so in the back line, there is an understandable feeling of frustration among the Welford Road faithful that the likes of Alex Lewington, Paolo Odogwu and Jacob Umaga have left the club in recent years.

Matt O’Connor is not known for trusting the kids and given Leicester’s terrible U18 season this year, Tigers are a side who could drop down the rankings over the coming years.

London Irish

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 19 (T-6th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 13.6% (12th)

Granted, 13.6% is a hideously low percentage of a squad to be homegrown, but it does come with the caveat that, prior to the club’s relegation, they were being picked clean of their best academy talent.

The leaks have now been plugged and Irish’s talented academy players look to be relishing the early opportunities for senior rugby that should be afforded to them by Director of Rugby Nick Kennedy.

Senior deals are probably already being prepared for the likes of Joe Cokanasiga, Tom Parton, Ben Loader, Isaac Curtis-Harris and Jack Cooke, so expect their ranking to start to rise, especially if they can consolidate their place back in the Premiership.

Newcastle Falcons

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 23 (5th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 31.3% (5th)

For a club that operates on a relatively limited budget, Newcastle have done an excellent job of retaining players in the last few seasons. For every George McGuigan that opts for pastures new, Falcons seem able to lock up two of their homegrown players.

If the club can steer themselves out of the relegation battle for a second consecutive season, the likes of Zach Kibirige, Callum Chick and Simon Uzokwe could be given more opportunities.

Northampton Saints

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 15 (11th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 26.3% (T-7th)

These are quite disappointing numbers for a club with Northampton’s tradition, not to mention solid recruiting territory.

The academy staff have done a very solid job of producing talented, well-rounded players, many of whom have played significant roles in England’s recent successes at U20 level, but the senior staff have been reluctant to trust them.

Senior deals – and the playing time you would expect to go along with them – for the likes of Lewis Ludlam and Jordan Onojaife would help, whilst Alex Mitchell, Devante Onojaife and James Grayson are names to keep an eye on in 2018/19.

Sale Sharks

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 24 (T-2nd)

% of senior squad homegrown: 37.1% (3rd)

This is going to be an interesting period for Sale, whose new owners seem content to splash the cash and bring in some big names, but the club also has a host of talented youngsters ready for more playing time.

How Steve Diamond deals with that balancing act will be key to Sale’s chances of success but regardless, the work in their academy has been very impressive. Recent long-term senior deals for the Curry twins and George Nott help push up Sale’s percentage of homegrown players – in a relatively small squad – but there is more still to come.

Talented playmakers Kieran Wilkinson and Cameron Redpath are two names to make a note of, but are likely still a year away from anything approaching regular senior rugby.

Saracens

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 30 (1st)

% of senior squad homegrown: 42.9% (1st)

Saracens have not only turned themselves into the kings of Europe, but also of the English academy scene. It’s not just the quantity of player they produce, but the quality, with most fitting seamlessly into senior rugby.

Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Max Malins, Dom Morris, Alistair Crossdale and Rotimi Segun are all in the queue for senior deals, whilst Elliot Obatoyinbo, Joel Kpoku, Sean Reffell, Manu Vunipola and Andy Christie are all fresh out of the U18s and forming a second queue behind those U20s stars.

It’s hard to see Saracens losing top spot in either of these categories anytime soon.

Wasps

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 13 (12th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 20% (11th)

There is no real excuse for this for Wasps. With their tradition and the rich Home Counties feeding grounds they had until very recently, there is no way either of these numbers should be so low.

Since the emergence of Elliot Daly, Sam Jones, Christian Wade and Billy Vunipola, Wasps’ academy has been disappointingly quiet. Ehize Ehizode has left for Bristol and the highly-rated Jacob Umaga is actually a product of Leicester’s U18s.

There is hope, however, in the forms of Sam Spink, Joe Tunney and Will Porter, but will they get an opportunity? Like Bath, Wasps have become a recruit-first club of late.

NB There is a new academy staff in place at the club, so time will tell if they can help turn that trend around.

Worcester Warriors

Academy graduates in the Premiership: 17 (9th)

% of senior squad homegrown: 20.9% (10th)

Worcester are another club on the cusp of making a leap up the rankings. Their academy has really come alive over the last few years and there are a number of players in their senior academy who will need to be tied down with senior deals soon, lest they risk losing them to other clubs.

Will Butler and Ted Hill are two of the more exciting talents to come through English rugby, let alone Worcester, in recent years and can be players for Gary Gold to build around in the coming seasons.

Jamie Shillcock, Jack Singleton and Huw Taylor are already making themselves known at the senior level and the future looks bright in Worcester.

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