LV= Cup experience so important for Saints youngster Hooley
The LV= Cup may not be the most prestigious competition on the rugby calendar - but for players like Will Hooley it is essential.
The 20-year-old Academy product has used this year’s assault on the Anglo-Welsh crown to show the Saints coaches how comfortable he can be in the first-team environment.
The fly-half has taken to it like a duck to water, displaying a calm head in a position that demands it.
And he even showed his ability to switch positions during a game, moving to centre in the heat of the semi-final battle against Saracens at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend.
“I’ve played there before in the Wanderers side and back in the Academy so it didn’t worry me,” said Hooley, who made his Saints debut against Sarries in the pool stages last month.
“Hopefully I contributed to what was a good win in the end. I had confidence in the boys I had around me. They really helped me.
“I had George Pisi outside me talking to me throughout the game and I was confident.”
And therein lies the secret of Saints’ success in the competition: the blend of youth and experience.
It has been a winning formula that has ensured five wins from as many LV= Cup games going into Sunday’s final against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.
Hooley is one of a laundry list of talented Northampton youngsters who have been given debuts in the competition this season.
He has used it as a springboard to an Aviva Premiership debut, at Exeter last month, and will now hope to add a winners medal to his burgeoning list of achievements.
And Hooley, who will be on the replacements bench this weekend, said: “It’s awesome to be part of this.
“Northampton has always been a successful club, but this year we really feel is one we can go on and do big things.
“Yes, there’s a trophy up for grabs, but Sunday is just another game. We want to continue our winning streak, our momentum and to be part of that is really good.
“I’m just looking to keep my place in the squad, take each game as it comes and hopefully that means we’re keeping our winning ways.”
An old head on young shoulders is the best way to describe Hooley, whose off-pitch self-assurance shines through with ball in hand.
He is a symbol of the confidence that has been instilled in the fledgling members of the Franklin’s Gardens squad this season.
Tom Stephenson, Ethan Waller, Tom Collins: the list goes on and on.
The coaches have shown their faith in homegrown produce - and it has proved to be a fruitful excercise, with 13 successive wins achieved.
“The word confidence is going around our club at the moment,” said Hooley, who enjoyed a loan spell at Championship side Moseley before breaking through at Saints.
“We’re winning week in, week out, even with the England boys away and some injuries we’ve had.
“The boys are stepping up.
“Personally, I just try to take it in my stride. I had a difficult start to the season after the JP Morgan 7s I had an ankle injury that led into a groin injury so I didn’t really start playing properly week in, week out until December.
“I was on loan at Moseley and thoroughly enjoying it there. Guys there were fantastic to me and because of that I got the chance to get out there with the first team here.
“I hope I’ve done a good job. Jim (Mallinder) has backed me, and Alex King as well has helped me out a lot. I’m just enjoying being part of a winning team.”
In years gone by, accusations of a lack of squad depth have been levelled at Saints. Not any more.
They have won all seven of their games since international stars such as Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood and George North departed for Six Nations duty.
And now they will look for the crowning glory of that ability to adapt to absences, by beating Exeter in Sunday’s final.
“You don’t get too many finals as a player, but it is just another game,” said Hooley, again refusing to burden himself with unneccessary pressure.
“We’ve got good confidence, good momentum. Exeter will be a good side, a strong outfit, but we believe in ourselves and if we go there and do our processes right we can come away with the win.
“We’re weirdly looking forward to going down there. We went down there last month in the Premiership and that was my first Premiership game. Conditions were horrendous and we came away with a win.
“We’ve got no thought that it will be an easy game. Exeter are hard, they’re a tough team and I know some of the guys down there.
“They play for each other, play for 80 minutes and we have to graft and hopefully come away with the win.”
If Saints do finish the job in style this weekend, the list of credits will be longer than an Oscars acceptance speech.
Because this has been a campaign in which Hooley and Co have showcased the affluence of ability the club now possesses.