Having experienced the heady heights of the Press Box at The Champions Cup Final at Twickenham, my next ‘Event’ was of a different kind, but just as important.

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I had planned to do my watching Essex Cricket in the morning and London Skolars in the afternoon thing again, but a message from Charles Beer a Twitter friend to tell me his son Connor was playing giving me a chance to watch him changed my plans.

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Connor in in the Bath Academy, to explain so many Bath photos to my Saracens friends.

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I’d watched the U18’s Academy Finals at Allianz Park in February and was amazed at the standard of the rugby played, I was very interested to see how the younger lads fared.

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There were a few Law Variations for the tournament –

  • The defending scrum half cannot follow the ball to the back of the scrum (can’t go past the tunnel)
  • The attacking 8 can only pick and release the 9/10 – he can’t break and keep running.
  • There is lifting in the lineout in attack and defence (no competing of the ball in defence)
  • No kicks at goal
  • 7’s restarts
  • A size 4 ball is used

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I had a vague idea of where Harrow School was in the scheme of things, thank goodness for my Satnav which knew exactly where it was!

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It wasn’t quite so sure about how long it would take to get past an accident on the A12 – that meant I missed the 1st games.

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The teams playing were –

  • Bath
  • Harlequins
  • Saracens
  • Wasps
  • Gloucester
  • Exeter
  • Bristol

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Harrow School in common with many independent schools sits in wonderful grounds, there were 4 superb rugby pitches set of the games as well as a running track and tennis courts.  There were other areas too, quite amazing when you consider where the school is placed.

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It was good to see Richard Hill wandering around looking very organised in his new role with the RFU as the Player Pathway Liaison Manager.  He had a wonderful array of talent all in one place for the afternoon!

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I watched Gloucester v Bath then London Irish v Bath.  It was hard to believe I was watching 14 & 15 year olds.  The skill and technical ability on show was very impressive.

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Rugby Union is a hugely complicated game, especially for those playing in the forwards, A small mistake turns the ball over to the opposition be it through a penalty or a quick thinking player getting his hands on the ball.

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To have picked up the niceties of the game at such a tender age and to such a high level was wonderful to see.

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At this age the physical differentials between players can be huge – and it was clear that a player with speed could make a huge impact if any space opened up.

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With only 12 on each side that space was inevitable, I saw several wonderful breaks with a try resulting at the end.

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The games are scored through the try’s scored – so the results are a bit akin to a football match – Bath had drawn 3 all against Quins for example.

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As I went to specifically watch Connor I am going to give him a mention – at 14 years old he is hugely focussed, he was running the line when I arrived – and he did that with intensity!

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The more I speak to players the more I understand that intensity, focus and a will to succeed as well as an inherent skill are all traits needed to make it through the Academy and on to playing at the highest level.

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Connor made an instant impact on the pitch – turning the ball over was always on his mind when he went into a ruck – and he often came out with it!  He reminded me of the way Maro Itoje plays.  I feel certain he’ll be a success at whatever he decides to do in life.

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Both London Irish and Gloucester looked to be good teams, I have to say in the games they played against Bath they looked the more organised team.

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I was able to watch Saracens play 3 games – as a Saracens season ticket holder I’m very interested in what the future holds – one young man of great interest was Ade Lipede – fast is hardly an adequate word to describe him!  He also has a sweet side step – I’ll be looking forward to seeing him progress.

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The Vunipola family were in situ and I believe Billy had been there earlier in the day to watch a young Vunipola playing in a Saracens shirt – he was in the backs, it’ll be interesting to see if that’s where he stays .

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The tournament isn’t about a winner, it’s about a chance for the boys to play teams at the top, for coaches to see how their players cope against their counterparts – and I imagine for the England set up to get a look at the future.

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Along with Richard Hill there were a few famous faces on the sidelines, Tony Diprose with Quins, Danny Grewcock with Bath and Tom William came along too.

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The final game of the afternoon was between Bath and Saracens – I confess to being quite happy that the result was a draw!

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Each team had clearly played 6 matches at 15 minutes a go.  With the no kick at goal rule those 15 minutes are incredibly intense – there were a lot of very tired boys at the end of the day.

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I’m hoping to learn more about how rugby works at this age, with an interview with both Connor and Danny Grewcock to follow.

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After a team photo of the Bath Academy as well as a photo of Connor and two of his club team mates it was time to head off.

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I went for a Nando’s with Charles and Connor and again was impressed by the maturity and focus of this young man.

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I had mu standard baby sauce – peri tamer – even plain is too hot!  With a very nice salad – there really is such a thing!

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Then it was home time – Charles and Connor headed down the M4 while I headed back to the M25 for my usual – MOVE OVER – journey home!  Yep there seemed to be glass again!

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A very sad footnote – I’d been trying to follow the London Skolars game on Twitter only to see that the game had been abandoned.  There was no indication of why until later when the awful news came that a Keighley Cougars player Danny Jones – 29 – had collapsed as he was leaving the pitch.  He died in hospital a while later.  Having lost my own son Luke in 2009 the news hit a nerve.  There’s a fund raising effort for his family – I would ask that if you can you click the link and send even a pound – it will all help his family.

https://www.justgiving.com/dannyjones29

Sport is a truly wonderful thing – it’s certainly helped me to find a new normal after losing Luke.   I know that for many of the young lads on show at the tournament rugby at this highest level won’t become a reality for them at the highest level.

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But I also know that the values learnt will stand them in good stead wherever the future leads them.

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