Suffolk youth rugby is in good hands
YOUTH rugby in Suffolk is in a healthy position, according to a key figure at top Premiership club, Northampton Saints.
Ipswich-born Simon Sinclair, who is also director of sport at Framlingham College, is a lead coach for the Saints’ Elite Player Development Group (EPDG), covering Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
Having coached for around eight years, Sinclair has already achieved some notable successes with Ipswich’s Alex Day, the latest player – helped on his way by the 32-year-old – on the verge of a full debut with Northampton.
“You go back years and the most successful senior clubs have always been the likes of Bury, Colchester and Ipswich,” said Sinclair.
“Clubs’ junior sections have not always been that strong but outfits such as Ipswich YM, Southwold, Hadleigh, Woodbridge and Stowmarket are building really good foundations now.
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“Ultimately, the youth section is the heartbeat of any club and the base on which to build.”
Sinclair has also played a big role in the development of fellow Saints Mikey Haywood, Ben Nutley and Jamie Elliott and is on the look-out for the next batch of talent to play at Franklin’s Gardens.
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“I have been coaching for seven or eight years now so I know what the benchmark is,” said Sinclair who scouts at every club in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
“At the age of 15 I generally know which players are likely to go on and play for the (Saints) first team, although some youngsters develop later in life.
“You only have to look at senior rugby and most front-row players don’t now generally peak until the age of 32.”
Sinclair holds Monday night sessions at Stowmarket Rugby Club where EPDG players between the age of 13 and 16 go to hone their skills.
It is an opportunity for local clubs to recommend their young talent with end of season trials resulting in a number of players progressing to the next age group.
“We work on the core skills of the game at the age of 12 and 13, the repetition, passing, tackling and technique,” he said.
“You can’t look at a player’s size at that age because all youngsters develop at different speeds.
“At a young age, they may just be an athlete but might have that x-factor that you think can turn them into a rugby player.”
While clubs such as Bury have realistic aspirations of playing National League rugby, and sustaining it – in years to come – Sinclair believes other clubs must be more vigilant in chasing their dreams.
After all, youth set-ups, while proving fruitful for the reputation of a club as a development centre, can also prove to be beneficial from RFU youth funding.
“You can chase success with your first XV but at what cost? You have to look at how far you are likely to go realistically and whether it would be of financial benefit,” he explained.
“All the clubs are realising now that they have to look at the long-term and it is working at clubs such as Stowmarket who have a very young team, with home-grown players.
“You only have to look at the relatively small turnouts for senior games on a Saturday compared to those for youth games on a Sunday when the juniors are playing. You are probably talking about a 1,000 people at each club. Youth rugby is very popular.
“The quality of youngsters has improved because clubs are putting increased time and effort in.”