Leicester Tigers academy manager Dave Wilks says the Anglo-Welsh Cup experience for four members of the squad contributed to the team's success as they claimed top spot in the Northern Conference of the Premiership Rugby Under-18 Academy League last weekend.
After being called upon by coach Geordan Murphy to make their senior debuts in this season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup competition, academy quartet Cameron Jordan, Will Yarnell, Sam Wager and Henri Lavin all featured in Saturday’s final round of the academy league programme.
They played their part in a 47-7 victory over Newcastle Falcons which completed an unbeaten run for the Tigers side and confirmed top spot to set up a Grand Final date with Gloucester on Sunday, March 11 at Allianz Park.
Speaking after the win, academy manager Wilks praised the input from the four players on their return to the academy squad.
“The lads we had away on Anglo-Welsh duty have all come back into the group and contributed hugely,” he said.
“They’ve presented to the group on their experience of playing in the senior team and shared their learnings.”
Grand Final opponents Gloucester also completed an unbeaten run with a dominant final round win over Bristol in the Southern Conference and Wilks was quick to pinpoint areas in need of improvement for Tigers ahead of their meeting next month.
“While I thought our defence was really good, we coughed up a lot of opportunities inside the Newcastle 22 and weren’t patient enough,” he said. “I can’t blame the lads for having a go, but we certainly want to be finishing more opportunities than we did today.”
Averaging more than 35 points per match and without a defeat heading into the Grand Final, Wilks says selection will be tough for the coaching group which also includes junior academy manager Jamie Taylor and lead coach Anthony Allen.
“The season so far has been a fantastic collective effort,” Wilks said.
“It hasn’t been the case that we have had a really strong XV who have started every week. We've rotated guys, young players have had a chance and, as much as possible, we have given everybody in the squad an opportunity.
“It’s unfortunate that not everyone has had the game-time they deserve but that is what happens when players play well.
“It won’t be an easy job for us as coaches but Finals Day will be a genuine selection of the team we feel will perform best on the day and for those who have put their hand up.”
Asked if the young group would feel any pressure heading in to the decider against Gloucester, Wilks said if there was any it would come from inside the group.
“It’s the winning that has put pressure on them,” he said. "There’s no pressure from the club or coaches. They put themselves under any pressure they feel with their results so far.
“From a development point of view, it’s massive for them."