Saints announce Senior Academy intake as eight youngsters make step up

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Saints have announced the eight talented youngsters who are set to join the club’s Senior Academy for the 2024/25 season.

Aiden Ainsworth-Cave, Tom Dye, Louis Haley, Billy Pasco, Ollie Scola, Sonny Tonga’uiha, Jonny Weimann and Rafe Witheat will all join up with the black, green and gold in the summer after signing their first professional contracts.

All eight players starred for the Under-18 side this season as Saints reached a third successive Premiership Rugby Academy League final.

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Meanwhile, Ainsworth-Cave, Weimann, Dye and Witheat all also represented England at Under-18s level during this year’s Six Nations Festival.

Sonny Tonga'uiha, son of Soane (right), has signed a Senior Academy contract with Saints (picture: Northampton Saints)Sonny Tonga'uiha, son of Soane (right), has signed a Senior Academy contract with Saints (picture: Northampton Saints)
Sonny Tonga'uiha, son of Soane (right), has signed a Senior Academy contract with Saints (picture: Northampton Saints)

“Throughout the season, there was a togetherness within our Under-18s side which was absolutely fantastic,” said Academy coach Charlie Reed.

“After some brilliant early victories, the boys bounced back really well after a defeat at Sale Sharks, and a run of matches away from home was great experience for the boys as they learned how to prepare for that – we managed to get it right on most occasions.

“Clearly the final wasn’t the result that we wanted, but to see the lads competing at that level for the third season running is testament to them and how they have developed over the course of this season, as well as the coaching they receive throughout the Academy.

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“We are delighted to welcome Aiden, Tom, Louis, Billy, Ollie, Sonny, Jonny and Rafe to the Senior Academy next season. This is a really exciting crop of young players, but they now have a massive challenge ahead of them as they transition into being full-time, professional athletes.

“We believe they all have what it takes to play at the very highest level eventually, but for now they have to focus on adapting to training every day. They all have a fantastic attitude, and are supportive of each other – I have no doubt they will be pushing each other to get better next season and beyond.

“I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all those involved in these players’ journies so far; their schools, clubs, teammates, DPP (Developing Player Programme) coaches, and of course their parents in particular for the countless hours they have spent driving and supporting these boys.”

AIDEN AINSWORTH-CAVE (SECOND ROW / BACK ROW)

Ainsworth-Cave initially joined Saints’ Academy at Under-14 level, and has played for Bedford School and Bedford Junior Blues in recent seasons.

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The forward returned earlier this campaign after a year out of action through injury, playing in Saints’ final Academy League game at home to Newcastle Falcons and then in the final. He also represented England Under-18s in this season’s Six Nations festival.

“Aiden has had to work very hard to bounce back from a series of injuries, but he managed to return for our final league match against Newcastle Falcons, before playing the full game on finals day,” said Reed.

“The performance was enough to earn him a place in the England squad for the Six Nations festival, and shows the effort he made off the pitch to put himself in a position to be ready to play to a high level straight away.

“It’s a great story for Aiden, and also demonstrates the fantastic job the medical team at Saints have done to get him back on the pitch. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in a full-time, professional environment.”

TOM DYE (PROP)

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Beginning his rugby career at Bury St Edmunds RFC, Dye joined Saints’ DPP as a 13-year-old.

Dye was selected for England Under-18s Six Nations squad, and Reed highlighted the prop’s attitude and desire to improve as key to his development so far.

Reed said: “I had the pleasure of coaching Tom when I worked at Ipswich School, so have seen him play from Year 9 all the way to today.

“You are not going to find many 18-year-olds with the level of work ethic that he has. He also has a huge desire to make himself a better player and is always asking coaches questions about himself and the game.

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“All his hard work is paying off and that is why he’s been selected for England Under-18s and also to move into the Saints squad on a full-time basis next season.”

LOUIS HALEY (FLY-HALF)

Former Bedford Junior Blues player and Stowe School captain Louis Haley was a vital cog in Saints’ side throughout this season’s Academy League campaign.

The fly-half is already a highly-skilled kicker, with his efforts from the tee and out of hand helping Northampton to a third straight Academy League final.

“Louis is a fantastic kicker,” said Reed. “He has a superb kicking game, which he has shown both in Sixth Form and also during his time with Saints in the Academy League matches.

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“He has got a great skill set, and with a bit more development on the leadership side of his game, I know he can kick on and become a fantastic player.

“I have real belief that he has the ability to go really well in Saints’ environment, so he is someone I am really excited about.”

BILLY PASCO (CENTRE)

Captain of Saints’ Under-18s side this season, Pasco is a powerful runner with ball in hand and resolute in defence.

The former Oundle School and Woodbridge RFC player has now been rewarded for his efforts in black, green and gold in the Academy League but putting pen to paper on his first senior contract.

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Reed said: “You will struggle to find a more hard-working individual than Billy – if you tell him to go and work on something, he will do it until he gets it right!

“His rate of learning has been fantastic, and he has taken big steps forward physically and mentally over the past year to develop key parts of his game.

“He captained the Under-18s this season, and his leadership skills were fantastic to drive standards for both himself and the players around him. Billy deserves everything that has come to him, just from working hard.”

OLLIE SCOLA (PROP)

Having joined the club’s Academy at Under-14s level, Scola unfortunately ruptured his ACL this year and missed the Academy League season.

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The prop has been meticulous with his rehab though, and Scola will be back in training in time for Saints’ pre-season training.

“Ollie has got huge raw potential in terms of his physical presence on the pitch,” said Reed.

“He picked up a serious injury in the summer, and so the last season was a struggle for him at times, but he showed great mental resilience to make sure he was in the best possible shape when he came back.

“He’s been incredibly diligent with his rehab, and I am sure that will continue moving forwards. He’s such a committed character and I can’t wait to see him back out there on the pitch.”

SONNY TONGA’UIHA (PROP)

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Son of Saints legend Soane, Sonny Tonga’uiha joined the club’s Academy at Under-14s level and has been involved in a handful of England camps over the last two seasons.

Reed said: “Sonny is a massive physical presence on the pitch, but he’s also someone who has worked extremely hard off of the pitch in order to get himself in the best physical condition possible to go and play.

“Sonny is a great long-term project for us, and someone who has got real potential to kick on.”

JONNY WEIMANN (SCRUM-HALF)

After being released by Saracens at 16-years-old, Weimann joined Saints’ Academy set-up and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

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He represented England at the Under-18s Six Nations festival, and the scrum-half has already made an appearance for Saints’ senior side – coming off the bench against Sale Sharks in a friendly back in March.

“Jonny has gone from being on the fringes of our Under-17s team, to wearing an England shirt and earning himself his first professional contract just a year later,” said Reed.

“He has had a rapid momentum shift in terms of his development. He is someone that is tough and puts himself in positions where he can get better.

“What has really stood out with Jonny is how quickly his journey has been in terms of his development, and how well he has applied himself to get where he is.”

RAFE WITHEAT (WING)

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Witheat’s size and searing pace saw him score some incredible tries for Northampton’s Under-18s side last season.

Having joined the Academy in the Under-14s, he has represented England Under-18s along with playing his club rugby for Ampthill.

Reed said: “Rafe has stacks of raw potential in terms of his speed and ability – he’s one of those guys with a real x-factor in his game, and he’s had some real standout moments in the Under-18s this season.

“What I really look forward to with Rafe, is adding the game knowledge that goes with his raw ability. With that, he can become an exceptional rugby player.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing him develop because he can do things on a rugby pitch that not many people can do.”

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