Oakham School was delighted to host a nail-biting Leicester Tigers vs Saracens U18 Academy fixture on Saturday, with five current pupils enjoying a ‘home turf’ advantage whilst representing the Tigers.
“It’s great to see Academy rugby played here at Oakham for the first time,” says Director of Rugby Andy Rice. “It’s a testament to the excellence of our sports facilities that we are able to host games of this level, and it’s a real honour to host this particular match given our long-standing and close connections with the Leicester Tigers and their Academy.”
The match, which took place on the School’s famous Doncaster Close pitch, saw the Tigers Academy win (26-24) to secure their journey towards achieving their third Academy title in succession – having already beaten Northampton, Sale and Newcastle this season.
Spectators included Leicester and Saracens Academy supporters, pupils and staff, as well as some of Oakham’s notable rugby alumni – including former England player Tom Croft (04). All of whom enjoyed watching this closely fought match, which went right down to the wire. The final three minutes saw both sides push for a win – each scoring a try and conversion – but ultimately the Tigers held onto their victory. Members of the Oakham School community particularly enjoyed being able to watch Form 7 pupils Henry, Jed, Charlie, Danny, and Felix represent Tigers – with Charlie winning that all-important final try.
“We currently have seven 1st XV Tigers Academy players, with five being selected for this particular match,” continues Andy Rice. “It was a fantastic opportunity for them all to represent Tigers whilst playing on their home turf, cheered on by their peers. All five of today’s players are a part of our School 1st XV, alongside fellow Academy players Kit and Jacob. In addition, the 1st XV Vice-Captain, Harry, has played for Tigers A XV, which is a huge achievement for a boy still in school.”
“Oakham’s current and former list of 1st XV Tigers Academy players is impressive, with many of them progressing on to play for Leicester. This isn’t surprising given that the Tigers are hugely successful in developing young players, with over half of the current Tigers first team squad being Academy graduates.”
There are three former Oakham pupils who are current Tigers players: fly-half Sam Costelow (19) (Wales U20), scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet (19) (England U20), and second row Cameron Jordan (18). Oakham’s strong links with Tigers go beyond just having Academy and professional players at the club; the Head Coach of the Academy is Old Oakhamian Matt Smith (04), who has recently moved into coaching after retiring from playing for Tigers.
“It was great to welcome Matt back to Oakham in his new role, as he moves from the pitch to his coaching position,” says Director of Sport, Iain Simpson. “He knows first-hand the quality of Oakham’s rugby facilities, and he obviously has a great understanding of the level of coaching and support we offer – which really helps with the transition and liaison between the School and Academy.”
The School doesn’t just support or work with Tigers; many pupils join other Academy clubs, and move to join different premiership teams after leaving Oakham. In the last two years alone, this includes scrum-half Sam Wolstenholme (17) (Wasps) and wing Tyrese Johnson-Fisher (18) (Bristol Bears). Other famous Oakham alumni playing first-class rugby include internationals Alex Goode (06) and Hamish Watson (10).
Having started to host County Cricket again during the last Summer holidays (which was a popular event opened up to local cricketing fans), this was the first time an Academy match has been held at Oakham School. “We are hoping this will become a regular fixture in coming years and, if it were at all possible, to co-ordinate this on a ‘leave out’ weekend or during the holidays. With this in mind, we’ll certainly look to open the event out to local rugby fans who will be able to enjoy the game and hopefully see young players on their journey to professional rugby,” concludes Iain Simpson.
The Tigers Academy squad now have two more Academy matches to play, against Worcester and Wasps, and depending on the outcome of these games, Oakham’s seven players could potentially be part of the Tigers squad that reaches its third successive final at Allianz Park in mid-February.