“We've been fortunate to be joined by some excellent new player, Alex Reeve (second row), Ben Vaughn (openside) and Dan Hall (centre) all of who are Oxon County players who were drawn to the academy program and are a welcome addition, all three are making ”
Coming out of pre-season we weren't clear what the academy squad would look like, with injuries accumulated over last season and pre-season hitting hard:- 2 ACL reconstructions, 1 back injury, 2 ankle injuries, a knee ligament and 3 players on GRTP protocol. We've been fortunate to be joined by some excellent new playerS, Alex Reeve (second row), Ben Vaughn (openside) and Dan Hall (centre) all of whom are Oxon County players who were drawn to the academy program and are a welcome addition, all three are making a strong case to be included in the starting league squad in November.
It's also been encouraging to see more talented players emerging from last year's U16s squad as the season progresses: one of the finds has been Sam Mutupo, who in two matches has carried, propped and defended like a pro. Squad numbers are healthy at 35 players, meaning that we've been able to absorb the freakish number of injuries between last season and this and still comfortably put out a match day squad. As the season progresses we're planning to put out an Under 17 side and an Under 18 side for the first time that I can remember in 8 years.
The new Rugby365 floodlit 3g pitch at the #OxfordRugbyHub has been a revelation. It's a huge draw to players (as is the academy stash!) and means that we have a world-class facility to train and play on.
The tale of the season so far is of fixtures cancelled and hastily re-arranged: a last minute pre-season fixture on 8th September vs St Edwards, Oxford resulted in a scramble to assemble a scratch squad of Under 16s, U17s and a few U18s for a Saturday afternoon match, followed the next day by a home fixture against Chipping Norton Colts.
Since that weekend every Sunday since has resulted in cancellations and last minute fixtures. We've played against Chinnor, Brackley and Amersham in last minute hastily-arranged friendlies as the clubs we'd been scheduled to play couldn't put out a side. Colts rugby across the county is in a state of crisis. Out of the 15 clubs in Oxfordshire with Youth Sections only 4 have been able to field an Under 18/Colts side regularly this season. 2 other clubs have managed a few fixtures and the remaining 9 clubs have no active U18/U17/Colts section at all. The picture is repeated in counties on all sides.
Keeping players in the game as they transition from Under 16 to adulthood has to be a bigger focus for clubs. We're continuing to invest heavily in our academy program with 2 pro coaches - Alan Awcock (London Welsh, Wasps Academy, DoR at Magdalen College) and James Clarke (Gloucester Academy, Oxford Brookes, Oxon County) - and medical and conditioning support provided by Danielle Pain at the Pain Clinic. We provide the players with great training stash, which they designed. It requires effort and financial investment for it to work. But it does work.50% of last year's Under 18s have already played for our 2nd XV this year. Next year's Academy leavers will be the largest group to move up in years, with over 20 players transitioning to senior rugby: they'll significantly boost the club's senior playing base, and some will be challenging for 1st XV places and will stay on the path to higher level rugby, which is the academy's goal.
The highlight of September and October to date has been the #DHLRugbyMoment. We entered a number of entries via the academy Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages and two of our entries got shortlisted for judging against 6 other entries. After a week of public voting the entries were judged and one of our entries, a well worked back's try off a set piece by Cian Messner (10), Jake Carter (12), Kaveh Babaahmady (11) and Prince Smith (14), was chosen as the #DHLRugbyMoment for September and received £1000 worth of kit and match tickets to the Quins vs Wasps game at Twickenham on 29th December.
Updated 14:10 - 11 Oct 2018 by Stu Wells