Leicester Tigers’ Academy squad have been encouraged to ‘make the most’ of their Under-18 Academy League grand final appearance this weekend.
Having topped their northern conference, Tigers will take on the southern section’s top seeds Gloucester on Finals Day at Allianz Park this Sunday, 17 February.
The match is a repeat of last year’s grand final, where Tigers recorded a 43-21 victory over the Cherry and Whites.
And academy team manager Dave Wilks has encouraged his squad to savour the opportunity to play in a final.
“I’ve told them to make the most of it – that’s the only message from me.
“It’s my job to make sure that we have done everything we can to help them perform and do the best that they can.”
Given the nature of the Under-18 Academy League, the turnover of players between seasons is huge – but is something the squad have taken in their stride.
Wilks continued: “We’ve got a few returning players, but I’m just really pleased that we’ve managed to back up what we did last year in a different way, with different players.
“We’ve had lots of different challenges thrown at us. Up at Sale we pretty much defended for an entire half of the game, and Yorkshire kicked a lot against us, which we’ve not had previously.
“The learnings off the back of all of that have been really good.”
Tigers’ academy is an important step between schools rugby and the professional game, and Wilks explained how the coaching team – made up of head coach Jamie Taylor, backs coach Matt Smith and scrum coach Tom Harrison – have fed elements of senior squad prep into training.
“We give certain lads access to footage of certain things [from opponents’ games],” he said.
“It’s something that academies have been reluctant to do previously, but it’s all part of the process.
“We’ll get a couple of lads to take a look at lineouts and preview that to the whole team, a couple of lads will look at defence, and so those leaders will have a good idea.
“We use it as a learning tool to prepare well and, to be fair, the lads love it.”
But the experience of playing in a final will be the biggest take-away for some of Tigers’ stars of the future on Sunday.
Wilks added: “You don’t get into many finals – I know that as a player and as a coach.
“You get very few opportunities and you have to make them count.
“As long as they can enjoy it and perform, then that’s all I expect.”