Leicester Tigers’ academy squad shared Graduation Day with their friends and families as well as with the matchday crowd at Welford Road on Saturday.
As Tigers earned a Gallagher Premiership victory over Worcester Warriors, the academy players were introduced to the 18,000-strong crowd on the pitch at half-time, where they were presented with their individual lettered shirts by club captain Tom Youngs.
The presentations from Youngs – one of their most successful predecessors and now an international with England and the Lions – signalled the formal end of their two years in the academy set-up at the end of a season in which the team retained the Under-18 League title for a remarkable third year.
Academy manager Dave Wilks addressed the players, their parents and friends, the coaching and support staff, and academy vice-presidents in the Clubhouse Lounge afterwards and said: “We are here to reward the players, but a lot of other people behind the scenes put a lot of effort and resource into what they do.
“Everyone from drivers, house-masters, teachers, sports coaches at schools, house parents, grandparents and, of course, parents are a massive part of the programme. We couldn’t do it without you.
“There are also people in the club who support the academy to drive the programme forward. The support is phenomenal from the management team and the academy vice-presidents.
“The last group who do not get much thanks are the staff. Their enthusiasm and energy are remarkable.
“The players have been incredible and a real pleasure to work with. You’ve done yourselves proud.”
Academy prop Jack Rowntree received the Tiger of the Year Award from head coach Matt Smith who said: “This award is for the person who epitomises the behaviours we have demanded – tough, smart, team first and hard work. And Jack has those characteristics by the bucketload.”
The Coaches’ Player of the Year award was presented by David Mélé to scrum-half Sam Edwards.