Warriors Under-18s will play their first competitive rugby in almost two years when they open their Premiership Rugby Under-18s Academy League campaign against Sale Sharks under the Sixways floodlights on Saturday (kick-off 5.30pm).
A lot has changed since Warriors beat Saracens at Sixways on Finals Day in February 2020 to secure third place in the competition.
Eleven members of that squad went on to secure places on the Three Pears Warriors Academy, including fly-half Fin Smith, but last season was a virtual write-off owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apart from a handful of friendly matches, Warriors Under-18s played no rugby last season but the current crop will make a welcome return to competitive action on Saturday in their opening match in the Northern Conference.
The competition is important for the development of young players with the likes of Ted Hill and Ollie Lawrence having made their mark in it in recent seasons before establishing themselves as first team regulars with Warriors and being capped by England.
Warriors’ squad to face Sale includes eight players who have already impressed playing for the club’s RFU ACE League team, Stourport HS and Sixth Form College, this season.
Stourport reached the final of the ACE League Plate competition where they were edged out by Beechen Cliff School from Bath in a high-scoring contest.
“It’s brilliant for the boys to be playing competitive rugby again. We had a few games last year but it wasn’t the same as the Academy League,” said Jonny Goodridge, Warriors Academy Backs and Transition Coach.
“It was difficult to get to know the Academy guys initially last season because we only had contact once a week, then we had another lockdown and we had to change what we did. Everything was socially-distanced, everything was in small groups so we never really got to know them.
“But this season we have been training twice a week for the last couple of weeks. It’s just getting to know the boys a bit better which helps with their performance, with their training and everything like that.
“The Academy League will be a step up from anything they have played. You’ve got the guys who have played a lot of ACE rugby which should stand them in good stead.
“But it’s going to be a step up. Everybody is a very good player, it’s going to be quicker than they are used to, it’s going to be more physical. We want to see how they go.
“Sale are normally very strong at Under-18 level and I don’t expect it to be any different this week.”
Warriors Under-18s | 15 Matt Smith (Stourport HS and Sutton Coldfield), 14 Ollie Smith (Hartpury College), 13 Will Pugh (Stourport HS and Luctonians), 12 Archie Jones (Stourport HS and Bridgnorth), 11 Alex Willis (Hartpury College and Worcester), 10 Dan Chambers (Stourport HS and Wolverhampton), 9 Alex Terry (King’s School and Worcester), 1 Lewys Walsh (Hartpury College and Aberdare), 2 Ethan Allen (Stourport HS and Telford Hornets), 3 Will Couch Hartpury College and Berkswell & Balsall), 4 Will Chater (King’s Worcester and Worcester), 5 Harvey Cuckson (Ellesmere College and Mold), 6 Will Owen (Ellesmere College and Whitchurch), 7 Woody Facey (Hartpury College), 8 Theo Mayell (Monmouth School and Monmouth – captain).
Replacements | 16 Loic Keasey (RGS Worcester and Worcester), 17 Ellis Locke (Stourport HS and Ledbury), 18 Arron Hackett (Stourport HS and Stourbridge), 19 Sam Hawes (King’s School and Ledbury), 20 Owen Boxall (Bishop Vesey’s GS and Lichfield), 21 Billy McDonough (Bromsgrove School), 22 Jack Condliffe (Stourport HS and Luctonians), 23 Jacob Clarke (Bishop Vesey’s GS and Sutton Coldfield).