Mark Hopley has been appointed as Saints’ new head of Academy for the 2019/20 season and beyond.
Hopley enjoyed a five-year playing career at Franklin's Gardens before opting to retire in 2010 and pursue a career in full-time coaching with the club’s Academy.
Progressing through the ranks and guiding the Wanderers to back-to-back titles in Premiership Rugby’s Shield competition along the way, Hopley also enjoyed a two-season stint working within the first-team set-up, before returning to the Academy as head coach last season.
The 35-year-old was then appointed England Under-20s forwards coach for the 2019 campaign, and will help to lead the young Red Rose side in Argentina this summer at the Junior World Cup – where four Saints youngsters will also be representing their country.
As head of Academy, Hopley will work alongside Alex O’Dowd who joins the club from Nottingham, where he was both backs coach for the Championship outfit, and head coach at Nottingham Trent University.
In a newly-created role as Academy programme manager, O’Dowd will be tasked with creating and managing the structures and strategy of the club’s youth set-up to ensure the Academy runs seamlessly.
The Kiwi brings a wealth of experience of both European and Southern Hemisphere rugby, having also coached at North Harbour, Auckland Blues U18s and the Dutch national side.
“This is a really exciting new chapter for our Academy, and we are delighted to have made these two important appointments,” said Saints boss Chris Boyd.
“Mark is universally respected by the existing players within our Academy and with good reason; he’s a strong leader and possesses a comprehensive understanding of schools and club rugby within our region.
“So, despite a considerable amount of interest in this role, he was the outstanding candidate and we’re confident he will take our youth set-up to the next level in the coming years.
“Meanwhile we feel Alex will be a great fit within our culture here at Saints – his experience working within the first-team and University programmes at Nottingham made him the right person to support Hoppers in his new role.
“Our Academy has a superb track record of producing talented youngsters capable of stepping up to first-team level; we’ve seen that in abundance this season and I’m excited about the impact that Mark and Alex can have at the helm.”
Commenting on his appointment, Hopley added: “It’s a great honour to lead our Academy which boasts a richly-deserved reputation for developing home-grown rugby players.
“I’m really excited to take the next step forward in my coaching career.
"I’m so grateful to all the Saints coaches who have helped me progress, but my huge thanks in particular must go to Dusty Hare who gave me my first opportunity within the Academy and was a mentor for me as I was starting out.
“Helping hardworking youngsters to transition into first-team rugby is something I’m very passionate about.
"This has been an exceptional year for our Academy with no fewer than 10 graduates making their Saints debuts – my focus is to build on that momentum.
“I’m delighted to welcome Alex on board too; he comes with great pedigree from Nottingham and boasts a superb understanding of development and what young players need to be successful, so I’m sure he will thrive within our environment here at Franklin’s Gardens.”