Saracens academy coach Adam Powell is backing youngsters Manu Vunipola, Joel Kpoku and the club’s raft of other rising stars to lead a Championship revival.
With England hopefuls Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Max Malins and Jack Singleton going out on loan and a host of Saracens regulars, including Alex Goode, Ben Spencer and George Kruis, heading abroad, the famed Saracens academy faces its greatest test.
However, with 20-year-old fly-half Vunipola having already stamped his mark and fellow homegrown products like lock Kpoku, wingers Roti Segun and Ali Crossdale, prop Ralph Adams-Hale and scrum-half Tom Whiteley following suit, Powell is confident of delivering.
“Our academy boys are integrated fully into the first team and with us being in the Championship next season and the challenges that will bring, these guys will take on greater first team roles and see huge benefits from doing that,” Powell told The Rugby Paper.
“Manu’s a really talented player and a good bloke as well, which is important. He wants to learn, wants to get better and he’s already been involved in our first team during what he will admit has been a rollercoaster season for everyone at the club.
“He played away against Racing 92 when we didn’t have our strongest team and they fielded all their international superstars, and then we went to Munster with another mixed side against their top team, so he’s had some pretty daunting experiences.
“But he’s acquitted himself well, along with lots of other young guys, and next year he’ll get to lead the team more often and develop what he’s already learned. We won at Northampton with many of our young boys involved, which was very encouraging.”
Powell hopes Sarries’ senior players will feel the heat, adding: “There’s a massive opportunity for these younger guys and had we still been in the Premiership next year rather than having to drop down, they’d still have been getting a lot of game time.
“Take Ralph Adams-Hale, our young loosehead; if he hadn’t been injured at the start of last season, he’d have been right in the mix to start ahead of Mako Vunipola. He’ll come on leaps and bounds now and there are lots of developing guys who’ll really kick-on.
“Some guys have gone out on loan or left, but the way we like to do things, from DoR Mark McCall down, means we want to see young guys play at the right times and we want them to establish themselves and compete with those other guys.”
However, Powell warns it will not be plain sailing for his young guns and says senior stars like Jamie George, Elliot Daly and Billy Vunipola have huge parts to play.
He said: “You can’t just chuck people in and say, ‘see how you go,’ and we’ve never done that, even with the superstars. Guys like Jamie George matured a little later so that’s proof of why you need to bring people in and then take them out again, just to give them time to reflect on what they can improve, whether that be skills or physical stuff.
“We try to take a long-term view and it’s important to remember there’ll still be lots of senior guys at the club. We’ll have a very strong squad in the Championship and it’s an opportunity for those guys to take on a different role in terms of mentoring.
“For the younger guys it’s a chance to experience what it means to have to perform every week and we won’t be taking the Championship lightly. It’ll be an exciting challenge for them in how to get themselves up mentally every week to perform.”