Apr 20, 2015
The Power of Youth
With several forwards aged 25 or under in the starting pack and on the bench against Clermont on Saturday, we take a look at each young starlet:
Mark McCall highlighted the young forwards that went toe-to-toe with Clermont on Saturday, he said: “They’re five young English players that have come through our academy, and they are going to be around and hopefully be a mainstay of our club for years and years to come. They are going to be pretty good when the hit 28 and 29 and all of them were magnificent today.”
Of the young forwards in the pack and on the bench, only Billy Vunipola didn’t graduate through the Saracens academy.
Many people forget that Mako Vunipola is only 24, even though it feels like the loose-head prop has been rampaging in a Saracens shirt for eons. The Saracens academy product put in another impressive performance against Clermont: an excellent display at the scrum and a willingness to carry the ball time and time again was central to a brave showing by Saracens in Saint-Etienne.
Like his brother Mako, Billy Vunipola was thrust into professional rugby from a young age. Blessed with herculean strength and skilful pair of hands Billy has developed into a world-class No.8. His powerful ball carrying ability has been an essential part of Saracens’ impressive run of late. Against Clermont Billy’s power in the contact areas shook the French side and he won some crucial turnovers. Remarkably, Billy is still only 22.
When Schalk Brits picked up a long term injury at the beginning of the campaign, many people worried how such an influential player would be replaced. Those fears were quickly eased as Jamie George stepped in with a string of eye catching performances to establish himself as a worthy replacement. Jamie George has been nothing short of superb this season. The Saracens hooker is only 24 and another graduate from the Saracens academy.
It’s been a monumental season for Maro Itoje: the young Saracen has established himself as a regular and influential first team player and lead the Saracens Storm and LV= Cup sides to silverware this campaign. Mark McCall showed his complete and utter trust in the Saracens academy product by selecting Itoje at flanker against Clermont on Sunday. Super Maro certainly repaid that faith, showing that he belongs on the huge European stage and was voted Saracens man of the match by the fans. Maro was the youngest starting forward in the pack (20 years old) and has already shown he has the ability and the maturity to handle the biggest of rugby occasions.
In many ways it’s been a breakthrough year for George Kruis: he received his first call up to the England squad, made his debut coming off the bench against New Zealand and started his first game against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in the Six Nations. Kruis’ industry, work rate and athleticism have contributed to Saracens’ dogged forwards’ displays in recent weeks. Another Saracens academy graduate, Kruis is the oldest of the youngsters at 25 and looks set to become a real leader in the pack over the next few years.
Another player to step off the Saracens academy conveyor belt is Jackson Wray, and whilst the No.8 didn’t start against Clermont on Saturday, he has been an influential performer in a Saracens shirt this year. Over the last two years Wray has contributed 12 tries to the Saracens cause – no mean feat! His ability to get over the gain line and put the men in black on the front foot has caused teams up and down the country serious problems. With a wealth of experience under his belt already, and the Sunderland born No.8 still only 24, Saracens fans can be excited about Wray’s potential in the coming years. Wray graduated from the Saracens academy with talented back-rower Will Fraser, who has been sidelined with a serious injury.
Ones to Watch
We pick out three Academy forward graduates to watch out for in the future:
Last week young Saracens flanker Hankin was selected to represent the Barbarians in an exhibition match against the Heriot’s, which will take place tomorrow. It is nice to see the rugby community recognising the performances of Hankin in a Saracens shirt this year. With a complete disregard for his physical wellbeing and a hunger to tackle anything that moves, Hankin is a player in the mould of Jacques Burger and has demonstrated the “Wolf Pack” mentality whenever he has graced the pitch. Did you know Hankin made the most tackles of any player in the LV= Cup this year?
A bad injury halted Scott Spurling’s opportunities in the Saracens first team this year, but the young hooker showed great determination to recover and make his return against Leicester Tigers last weekend. The young hooker came on in the centre after an injury to Duncan Taylor and made a real impact with some bone crunching hits in the midfield. At the tender age of 21 (just a few months younger than Hankin), if Spurling can stay injury free next season there should be plenty to come from the Saracens hooker.
In the class of Hayden Thompson-Stringer and Titi Lamositelle, prop forward Biyi Alo has often been described as the biggest rugby player most people have ever seen. He stands at 6ft 2 and weighs in at an impressive 19 stone. Rumour has it Alo is one of the strongest Saracens players in the gym as well. Alo was part of the England U20s team that lifted the World Cup last summer (along with Maro Itoje). The tight head prop has made huge improvements to his game this year by training with seasoned scrummagers such as Juan Figallo, Rhys Gill and Kieran Longbottom. Alo made his Premiership debut against Harlequins at Wembley in March this year and if the goliath prop (aged 21) continues to develop his all round game, he could feature a lot more next season.