Sevens offers Saints kids a chance to shine

Sam Olver captained Saints in the sevens
Sam Olver captained Saints in the sevens

As stepping stones go, the Sevens has proved to be a pretty sturdy one for Saints youngsters in recent years.

Mike Haywood, Ben Nutley, Jamie Elliott, Tom Stephenson and Tom Collins, who starred last summer, are among the prodigious players to have flourished since starring in the seven-man game.

And now Academy coach Mark Hopley is hoping others can take inspiration from the rise of those men into the Northampton first team.

Saints are the host club for Friday’s Aviva Premiership Sevens group competition at Franklin’s Gardens, with the action starting at 7.15pm and being broadcast live on BT Sport.

And Hopley, a former Saints No.8, said: “We’ve looked at sevens as predominantly a development tool.

“We took a young side to the Bury St Edmunds Sevens tournament last summer and they won there.

“You look at the kind of players we’ve blooded in this environment and they use this as chance to go on and play senior rugby.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for those boys to experience what this atmosphere, what the pressure is like and what it’s like playing on camera as well.”

Saints have sold more than 8,000 tickets, with games against Harlequins, Saracens and Wasps lying in wait.

Last year, the home side were unable to win any of their matches and Hopley won’t be too concerned with a similar outcome this time round.

“We won’t get too wrapped up about how we actually play,” he said.

“We’ll do a couple of sessions leading up to it, but what you’ve got to remember is that we’re trying to develop these players to play the 15-a-side game rather than the seven-a-side game, but within that sevens is good for building skills.

“The breakdown, your tackling and contact skills are really highlighted in sevens so it’s good to see where they’re at.

“Our main focus at the minute is strength and conditioning, so whether they’re quite ready for the contact area of the game at this minute is another thing, but it’s definitely useful.”

Saints will include the likes of Teimana Harrison and Glenn Dickson in their squad, along with less experienced players such as Sam Olver and Howard Packman.

And even though wins are not paramount, Hopley expects his side to put on a good show.

“We breed a culture that all these lads want to put that Saints shirt on and no matter what competition it is, they’re all competitors,” he said.

“No one goes out on the pitch not wanting to win, you can guarantee that the young lads who have come through with that culture will perform to their very best.”

Saints Sevens squad: Josh Skelcey, James Fish, Glenn Dickson, Tim Cardell, Alex Woolford, Rory Hutchinson, Lewis Ludlam, Teimana Harrison, Phil Robinson, Sam Olver(capt), Howard Packman, Harry Mallinder