AS part of their drive to break into the upper echelons of the Aviva Premiership, Worcester Warriors have streamlined their academy in a bid to develop their talent of tomorrow.
The focus from now on is very much on quality over quantity as the number of aspiring first teamers on the club’s books has been cut from the 20 they had last term to 11.
However, the current crop are made up of mainly England age group players as well as the pick of last year’s intake, most of whom have had a taste of first XV rugby.
The 11 academy players are Josh Buggea, Tom Carlisle, James Currie, Nile Dacres, Ryan Furniss, Ben Howard, Joe Nellany, Max Stelling, Ed Taylor, Josh Watkins and Rob Wood.
Wood, the younger brother of England and former Worcester star Tom, Currie, Dacres and Furniss have all enjoyed senior rugby at Sixways in previous seasons.
Newcomers include back row Buggea (England under 18) and wing Watkins (England under 19), while Ed Taylor (back row/lock) and Max Stelling (full-back) both impressed for England under 18 schools and colleges last season.
Centre Ben Howard and fly-half Tom Carlisle, younger brother of Joe, played for Worcester Cavaliers last season.
Seven of the players have already joined the senior pre-season programme — including Buggea and Watkins before they tour South Africa with England under 18 in August — and head coach Richard Hill has been delighted with the response.
“We have seen already that the young lads have been integrated into the first team group and are getting to know the players around them. It has been full-on and they have taken everything thrown at them,” he said.
“They have a good attitude and skills and this will only improve them and accelerate their development by being alongside the senior set-up.
“All of them will have mentors in their position to look up to. Josh Buggea is a young man who can play across the back row, but will probably look at becoming a flanker.
“He can look at Jake Abbott and Matt Kvesic, the way they go about things, the physicality they bring. He is a young man who gets to see the level of performance and dedication he has got to reach and has two fantastic role models to aspire to.
“With the support structures that these players have across the board now, this is the ideal environment for them and they have got to grasp it with both hands.
“I have spoken to them and they are being given the maximum chance to make it. They have got to use every ounce of expertise, knowledge and resource we have. We are giving them the best possible chance to have successful professional careers.”
Warriors are still searching for a new academy manager to replace long-serving Andrew Stanley, who left Sixways this summer to take up a similar post at his home-town club Gloucester.
In the meantime, the Warriors youngsters are under the guidance of Gary Meechan, skill development and academy assistant manager, and Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence co-ordinator Simon Lane.