Hopley expects Saints’ next generation to continue feeding the first team

Academy coach Mark Hopley can't wait for the season ahead (picture: Linda Dawson)
Academy coach Mark Hopley can't wait for the season ahead (picture: Linda Dawson)

Academy coach Mark Hopley admits it is getting harder and harder for young players to make the breakthrough at Saints due to the amount of talent in the senior squad.

But he has backed the club’s next generation to continue feeding a first team which includes a number of players who came through the club’s thriving youth system.

The likes of Tom Stephenson and Tom Collins are the latest to make the grade, with others such as Howard Packman and Sam Olver looking to follow in their footsteps.

And Hopley can’t wait for the season ahead as more players bid to get first-team game time.

“Those younger players who were establishing themselves last season, the likes of Collins and Stephenson, it’s a real opportunity for them to cement their place in the matchday 23 every week this season,” he said.

“It’s going to get harder and harder for younger lads to come in with the quality in those positions, but hopefully they’ll take the opportunity when it’s given to them.

“I’m always immensely proud of the young lads that come through. They’ve got the qualities we’ve been looking for in the years we’ve been here and we’re massively proud of the Academy and what those boys are achieving.”

The Saints Academy has been improving every year, with Jim Mallinder, who took over as director of rugby in 2007, paying close attention to the production line.

It has paid off in grand style, with the club winning the Aviva Premiership and Amlin Challenge Cup last season, as well as reaching the LV= Cup final.

And Hopley said: “Jim identified the Academy pretty early on when he came in here and made the shrewd move to get (recruitment and development manager) Dusty Hare in with all his knowledge and experience.

“Dusty helped Alan (Dickens) at first and Alan has gone on to be very successful with the senior squad. He brought me in and he’s looking to bring people like Paul Diggin in to bolster that.

“We’ve got a great region to recruit that talent from and you can’t underestimate the value of our community team here and our development centres with the likes of Ross Stewart and John Curry putting a lot of time in.

“For my job as an Academy coach, when I get a lad at 16, the quality of that player is getting better every year so hopefully by the time the player goes full-time, he’s can really make an impact.”