London Irish Academy Manager Patrick O’Grady says the newly-formed partnership with Middlesex Rugby is an exciting prospect for the club.
Middlesex Rugby joined forces with Irish in November, offering both parties a wealth of opportunities to develop the game.
O’Grady, 30, admits he is already seeing the benefits of the partnership as the Exiles strive to nurture the very best talent in the region.
“We have access to 4,500 more players than last year and our under-13’s, 14’s and 15’s sides have seen a real intake,” said O’Grady.
“It’s great to work with new and talented players – Middlesex have some fantastic schools and clubs and it’s great to branch out and work with them.
“Bob Lawless of Middlesex Rugby has been great in creating the link and his passion and love for Middlesex is the same as ours for London Irish, so I have no doubt that we are going to work well together,” he added.
The Academy has enjoyed a renaissance in the last couple of years, with a string of talented youngsters getting their chance to shine in the first team. From Johnny Williams and Theo Brophy Clews being blooded in the Aviva Premiership last season, to no fewer than 14 Academy products featuring in the memorable 17-16 victory at Cornish Pirates in the British and Irish Cup before Christmas, the youth set-up is bearing fruit at present.
O’Grady said: “You see the lads this season and last season, who have all had their opportunity to experience senior level rugby and it’s very pleasing. On top of that, some boys have been playing England age group rugby which is a massive testament to them – the success of their progression sets the example for the other lads coming through.”
Setting the benchmark is a common theme that transmits throughout the club, whether it is the blossoming culture in the senior set-up down to the under-18’s winning the Premiership Rugby Academy crown last year.
“The Academy right down to under-13 level are developing fantastic habits that have been passed down from the first team headed up by Nick Kennedy and Brendan Venter. They know the values of the club and what it means to pull on the green jersey.
“The lads are also aware of the opportunity to progress through the ranks here, which has been evident in the last year and each player has an expectation of themselves. Creating that pathway and creating an environment that the player will flourish in is what it’s all about to ensure that they see their future with London Irish.
“The amount of players that we have signed, who played in last year’s Academy final is fantastic and they are hungry to succeed at the highest level.
“We want talented and skilled players, but we also want good people too – it’s the same in the first team and nothing changes in the Academy. We want a good core coming through and that consists of showing respect and being a decent lad off the pitch,” said O’Grady.
The under-18’s got their campaign underway against Harlequins before Christmas prior to hosting Gloucester last Saturday. Despite narrowly losing both games, the positive signs were certainly coming to the surface according to O’Grady.
“Against Quins our performance was excellent and then we stepped it up against Gloucester with some outstanding tries scored so credit to the boys.
“It was also pleasing to see so many of the board members at Hazelwood for the Gloucester game and the boys definitely feed of that. We still have a Premiership structure within the Academy and nothing has changed in that respect, so everything is moving forward in the right direction,” he said.