Walton and Guest hail international call-ups as proof Academy pipeline is in fine fettle
16 January 2020
Alex Craig (Scotland) and Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales) received their first international call-ups this week, and the news is evidence of the hard work being put in at Academy level and importance of the relationship with Hartpury according to Peter Walton and Alex Guest.
It’s been well documented that the 2019-20 season has been a unique one due to the Rugby World Cup in Japan, and the campaign kicking off with four rounds of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
All Premiership Rugby clubs were missing international players for a few weeks at least, and this created playing opportunities for the wider squad and, crucially, for Academy players.
Gloucester Rugby’s Head of Academy, Peter Walton, feels that the club took the right approach when integrating the Academy players into the senior squad at this time.
“It’s massively important that the club has included the Academy lads since the beginning of the season. They’ve had them in training and it’s really starting to bear fruit, especially today with the news about the two players getting international call-ups.
“One has come through very quickly, and one has taken as long as it takes. And that’s important for certain players. Rees-Zammit is slightly different as a back while Craigy is a forward and it just takes longer.
“But he’s put the work in, and it’s hard work, and now he’s got the chance to go up to Scotland and show what he can do.”
The Cherry and Whites have developed a reputation for giving young talent an opportunity at first team level. Walton feels that should be acknowledge, as should the significance of working with Hartpury.
“That’s what the Academy is all about, finding players and working with them and it’s no coincidence that these players were at Hartpury as well. There is a possibility that, as a club, we wouldn’t have been aware of them had it not been for Hartpury.
“But, as a result of that link, they become involved with the Academy and we work with them – coaching, nutritional advice, backed up by strength and conditioning and medical support – and drive them on along the journey to where find themselves now.
“There are exceptions where players get identified very quickly, but the majority take time. And it’s those who are prepared to wait, and put the work in, and Craigy is a great example having worked hard, played Championship, played Nat One, played A League and now getting a chance in the first team and he’s been called up.
“Hartpury playing in the Championship has been key. We want players out there getting competitive rugby and it’s got to be the right level for them. For some of our Academy players, playing for Hartpury in the Championship might be too much, too soon. We might have to look at Nat One or Nat Two, for example.
“There are exceptions, but most don’t walk straight into a first team. Louis has done brilliantly, but I think we’ve managed his progress well and he’s made the absolute most of his opportunities.”
Alex Guest added that the ability to study at Hartpury has been a key factor in recent years as well. The opportunity to study for A Levels and University degrees has attracted students from all over the county and the country.
“The Further Education offering has also been key. It’s allowed us to recruit nationally, Rees-Zammit is from Cardiff and Craigy from Dumfries. Those players have actually come from outside our catchment area and added to what we’ve already got.
“Even locally, someone like Jake Morris went to Hartpury Sixth Form having gone to school at Bournside, Jack Clement was at Cheltenham College, George Barton was at The Crypt. It’s worked fantastically for Hartpury and for ourselves.
“The likes of Jack and George, along with Josh Gray who are all England U20s this year, have been working hard this season and been out on loan, spending time at Nat One and Championship level, quietly going about their business and waiting for their chances. Alex Morgan is another good example, making the most of his time with Jersey in the Championship.
“Today has shown everyone in the pathway that there are opportunities there. And when they do come, you have to grab them with both hands like Craigy and Rees-Zammit have done this season.”
Patience is also key says Walton, allowing players to develop at their own pace and at the appropriate level.
“We have to remember that it’s about the individual and, within the Academy, we’re all trying to help that individual achieve things, we’re not so worried about the team stuff.
“That’s the way we’re going to go forward. Rees-Zammit is different to Craigy. The majority of forwards should take longer and wouldn’t ordinarily be expected to play first team until they’re 21 or 22 or even older.
“The players naturally all want to do it tomorrow, but we’re very much about doing it when they’re ready. Craigy has shown that, he played a season for Hartpury in the Championship and he’ll admit now that the experience was brilliant for him and helped his progression.
“There will still be ups and downs, and we just have to deal with that. Developing players to be successful is what we’re all about, not necessarily results lower down even though we all want to win games. It’s about the first team being successful
“I’m still relatively new to this Academy, but I know what went before and we’ve developed a lot of good players over the last few years, and Guesty has been part of that working with the 15s and 16s, all the way through. And I’ve got Trevor (Woodman), Matt (Teague) and Stuart (Bradfield) all working hard to identify and develop these players.
“Our link with Hartpury is a big factor, but we work with all the schools and we’re not pushing the players anywhere.
“We want them to go to the school which they think is the best option for them. If they come through with their rugby, then that’s brilliant. But getting their education is the main thing and, if they get that, the rugby will take care of itself.”