Dan Thomas lines up for the Cherry and Whites on Friday night, as they travel to The Stoop, and the young back rower is again enjoying the opportunity presented by the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s.
The Academy is split into three levels:
The young players are coached and developed by Gloucester Rugby Club staff at Elite Players Development Centres (EPDC's). This process is in place to improve the skills, fitness and game understanding of players and also to act as a means of identification of players for progression.
This involves a maximum of 25 players, funded through Sport England via the RFU, to provide resources in the development of fitness, nutrition, analysis, physiotherapy, lifestyle management, educational advice and guidance, plus managed match playing programmes. The main aim is to produce players ready for the big step-up to Premiership and international standards.
The National Academy is headed by former England coach Brian Ashton and prepares the elite players for international duty.
A player can be identified through various routes, club, school, university or representative channels. The most common practice is through identification via school/club county squads from as early as 14 years of age. The youngster then progress into selection for EPDC squads.
Ultimately, the England and Gloucester Academy looks to develop players up to international playing standard, and therefore professional level rugby players. Many will not make the top level but could still follow a career in rugby under contract at club level.
One must assume that we are talking about high quality players, so therefore opportunities will exist for those that don't make the standard at a lower level, most likely in a part time capacity. It is important for players and parents to know that at present there are only 600 full time players within the English system, many of these from overseas. There are currently some 300 Regional Academy players already in the system, the fall out rate will be very high. Hence, coupling the rugby development with a suitable academic and career development plan is a very high priority.
All the funding from Sport England to the clubs via the RFU is to access resource for the listed Regional Academy players. The clubs may choose to offer a contract to a player but this is independent from the Academy process. England RFU will soon be producing an 'Elite Athlete Scholars Agreement' to be signed by all players at Levels 2 and 3 of the Academy process. This agreement will be to ensure each player commits to England in return for receiving the funded resource delivered through the Academies at club level.
Gloucester provides one of the England Rugby Academies in the country and the official website looks at some of the questions that people may have.
'England Rugby Academy' is the term used to describe the process supported by the RFU for what will be one of several key stages of player development in the Rugby Football Union's World Class Performance Plan. The primary, and at all times central, purpose is to develop better England players. The England Rugby Academy structure will operate at three levels:
- Level 1 will be a National Academy for a select group of up to 60 players mainly in age groups U19-U24.
- At Level 2 England Rugby will license a network of regional academies each serving a discreet geographical area of the country and supporting development of up to 300 young athletes in age groups U16-U21.
- At Level 3 England Rugby will support each regional academy to work closely with RFU development staff, CBs, clubs and schools to establish a comprehensive programme of talent search and player development at up to forty accredited elite player development centres.
A player selected for academy entry will be directed into a personal development programme that is geared primarily to ensuring that his capacities and abilities as a rugby player are maximised. The athlete will be supported by academy staff, specialist coaches, sports scientists and other specialists appointed by the Academy Manager. All areas of physical, technical, tactical and psychological development will be supported as well as game knowledge (rugby brain) video analysis and a competitive programme appropriate to the player's development.
Players will be selected from county development squads, by direct referral from the county coach or Rugby Development Officer. Opportunities will be created for entry by late developers and talented athletes from other disciplines. Players selected to attend an England Rugby Academy must be England qualified and have the potential to play for England. Player potential will be assessed under four main categories:
- Skills and elements of competence
- Tactical and game awareness
- Personal attitude
Players wishing to put themselves forward for selection towards an academy should first be identified within the constituent body development squads run by the RFU's Rugby Development Officers. Players can be nominated to these squads from any club or school. Selection will be based on merit. Those selected must demonstrate the potential to become a professional rugby player and the mental toughness/desire to "be the best". Academy athletes will be expected to put "rugby first" and adopt a lifestyle that will enable them to develop into a professional athlete.
Yes. It is vital that you pursue your education as well as your development as a rugby player. Rugby players retire early (normally in their 30's) and few will ever earn sufficient not to have to work beyond that. Injuries too can interrupt your rugby career so it is important to have an alternative career path to turn to.
The best rugby players are those who can apply themselves across a number of disciplines. Education / vocation targets will be set and must be met by all academy athletes.
The England Rugby Academy will ensure that all athletes are able to pursue the core programmes. This should, in the majority of cases, involve the player in an equivalent of 15 to 20 hours of skills training, technical skills development, conditioning, tactical awareness, and 'active rest' each week.
This will normally be delivered during the day at the optimum times for individual player development. In exceptional cases it may be possible to manage this via a mix of evening and weekend sessions with more concentrated programmes planned into school holidays.
England Rugby Academies will develop working partnerships with local specialist sports colleges, further education colleges and schools who will provide the academy athlete with flexible educational support that allows him to put "rugby first" for 2 to 3 hours each day whilst still attending lessons/lectures.
A number of universities and further education colleges have also indicated that a similar flexible approach could be applied to students on either degree or HND courses. Players in these groups will benefit from working daily with and alongside the clubs first team squad. This may mean an extension of their degree courses to four or five years, which should be possible with the modular approach to qualifications.
The competitive programme for each player in an England Rugby Academy will be personally planned. The Academy Manager working closely with the relevant England coaching staff will advise on a programme of matches geared to maximise his individual rugby development.
Academy players will only be required to play for teams/squads that provide levels of competitive exposure appropriate for this development. This may or may not include playing for teams such as, for example, the player's school/university, his county or England Schools/Universities. Players will play no more than 32 games per season that will include:
- Club first XV games
- Club "A" Games
- Age group matches - against sides from other premier clubs
- Representative matches for England or regional representative sides
- Competitive matches for other local clubs, universities or schools
Under the long form agreement between the premier club and the RFU, clubs will release players at all level for the following:
- International matches
- Preparation for international matches
- Trials for selection of squads for international matches
- RFU age group development squads / courses.
- Specialist skills development and personal development sessions.
Your programme of matches will be agreed in advance by the Academy Manager and with all others involved.
No. There are no guarantees. Whilst you will be given every assistance, progress through the representative ranks will be down to the speed of your development and your personal drive and ambition.