Saints add duo to Senior Academy as young forward departs

George Hendy and Leroy O’Neil have joined Saints’ full-time Senior Academy set-up ahead of the 2021/22 season.

By Tom Vickers
Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 2:55 pm
Leroy O'Neil and George Hendy (picture: Northampton Saints)
Leroy O'Neil and George Hendy (picture: Northampton Saints)

The pair both graduate from the club's Under-18 side, putting pen to paper on their first professional contracts after catching the eye of Saints Academy coaches Mark Hopley, Will Parkin, James Craig and Jake Sharp.

Utility back Hendy and front rower O’Neil have been training with Chris Boyd’s first-team squad in recent weeks, with preseason preparations ramping up at Franklin’s Gardens ahead of the new Gallagher Premiership campaign.

“We’ve been keeping an eye on George and Leroy’s progress for a long time and we’re really pleased with how they’ve developed,” said Parkin.

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Jack Hughes

“Making the step up from the under-18s to the professional setting can be challenging, but these lads proved to us over the last few games of last season that they’ve got what it takes.”

Meanwhile, it has also been confirmed that Saints hooker Jack Hughes has joined Bedford Blues on a full-time contract.

The 20-year-old makes the switch to Goldington Road after impressing on loan for the Blues in five Championship appearances last season.

After signing for Saints ahead of the 2019/20 season, Hughes featured for Saints in the Premiership Rugby 7s competition, and for the Wanderers in the Premiership Rugby Shield.

Here's the lowdown on Saints' newest Senior Academy members...

GEORGE HENDY | CENTRE / FULL-BACK

Originally part of Worcester Warriors’ Academy set-up, Hendy first caught the eye of Saints’ coaches aged just 13 in one of the club’s junior sevens tournaments, and arrived in Northampton three years later.

Also comfortable at fly-half and centre, Hendy made the No.15 shirt his own in his final year of Under-18s with Saints, and now the former KES Stratford student will progress from Shipston-on-Stour RFC to join Saints full-time.

“George is a very talented and adaptable utility back that has shown immense tenacity over his career so far,” Parkin said. “The way he handled setbacks at a younger age, and again with the complication of the pandemic, is admirable and he should be immensely proud of the way he’s carried himself.

“He played across the backline with our Under-18s this season, and his hat-trick against London Irish tells you just how dangerous a player he can be.

“George isn’t just a natural finisher; at 6ft 3in and 100kg he is a special talent, has a good eye for identifying and attacking space, and is a player we have a lot of hope for.”

LEROY O’NEIL | PROP

Graduating from St Joseph’s School and rising through the age groups at Ipswich YM RFC, O’Neil joined Saints Academy as a centre at 13 years old before transitioning to prop as he progressed.

The front rower brings the total number of players contracted from last year’s Under-18 cohort to seven.

“We’ve been really impressed with Leroy’s shift in mindset over the last 12 months,” said Craig. “His physicality and athleticism has real potential, and he’s shown some real talent in attack as well as physicality and aggression in defence.

“As with any young prop, there are areas for Leroy to improve and his scrum development will be crucial; but the input he will get from Matt Ferguson and the other senior coaches – alongside his commitment on and off the field – give us the belief that he can make the most of his undoubted ability.

“Leroy’s family have been a huge support throughout his progression thus far and, like all the parents we encounter in the pathway, we must thank them for the part they have played to get him to this stage.”