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Grand Final Preview | Academy look for hat-trick of titles

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The Leicester Tigers Academy will be gunning for an unprecedented third successive title when they face London Irish in the Grand Final of the Under-18 Academy League on Sunday (February 16, 4.00pm).

After beating Gloucester in the last two Finals, both held at Allianz Park, Tigers go into Sunday’s showpiece at Sixways on the back of five wins out of six games in the league’s northern conference.

They face a London Irish side with a similar record so far this season – only beaten by Saracens’ Under-18s at Christmas – as Premiership Rugby hosts its annual Finals Day at Worcester Warriors’ home ground.

Previewing the big game, Tigers Academy manager Dave Wilks spoke about how the fixture serves as just a snapshot of the hard work put in by players and coaches alike over the past nine months.

“We are first and foremost an educational programme, and it’s great that we can have an ‘exam’ each week to test that, and this weekend will be no different,” he said.

“The bar is very high and we make no excuses for that, but we will give them every opportunity to go out and enjoy it, and take on the challenge.”

Given the nature of the development competition, Sunday’s matchday squad does not feature a single player that tasted victory in 2018’s Final, though there are a handful of young men who experienced last season’s title-winning success.

Head coach Matt Smith is new for this year, too, stepping into the role over the summer after more than 200 appearances in a Leicester shirt.

“We’re feeling good,” Wilks continued. “We’ve been even stronger this year, and the programme is developing all the time.

“This group are incredibly hard-working, they’ve learned a lot and developed a lot as people, and have earned a chance to be in the Final.”

Tigers front-rower James Whitcombe, who played in both title-winning Finals and has since graduated to the club’s development squad, offered his advice to the young Cubs.

He said: “They should just go out and enjoy it. I think you can get bogged down in the occasion.

“I worked with some of the lads last year and they’re a great set of boys. If they all buy into the process, they’ll get what they deserve. Fingers crossed and good luck to them all.”

As well as looking to the future of the club with a new generation of players, the Tigers Academy also hold a link to the past with traditional lettered shirts. The Exiles Academy will wear their usual green strip, while the Cubs will play in a white and purple alternate kit with white shorts.

You can keep up to date with blow-by-blow commentary using the Matchday Live service on the Tigers website as well as via the club’s social media channels. Entry to Sixways for Finals Day is FREE to all supporters.