Tupai and Sleightholme stay on as Saints hand senior contracts to five young stars

Connor Tupai will join Saints' Senior Academy (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Connor Tupai will join Saints' Senior Academy (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Saints have announced that five highly-rated youngsters will join the Senior Academy set-up ahead of next season.

Forwards Samson Ma’asi, Alex Coles and Joe Wallace have all put pen to paper on their first full-time contracts after impressing as a part of Saints’ Junior Academy.

Ollie Sleightholme will be staying at Saints

Ollie Sleightholme will be staying at Saints

In the backs, Connor Tupai and Ollie Sleightholme are also set to join the Senior Academy ranks over the summer, with both following in the footsteps of their fathers, former Saints players Paul Tupai and Jon Sleightholme.

And with the likes of Harry Mallinder, Mikey Haywood, Courtney Lawes and Alex Waller all coming off the club’s production line in recent years, Academy manager Simon Sinclair is delighted with this year’s intake.

“Every year we have some very, very difficult decisions to make – but it’s a great testament to the current Academy set-up at Saints that we can take on this many capable players from our junior section,” Sinclair said.

“All five players have proved to the coaches this year that they have the potential to compete at the very highest level.

“We’ve had some great players come out of the Academy and into the first team in recent seasons, and I have no doubt that this group can do the same.

“I want to thank Paul Diggin and James Craig in particular for their help in coaching all five of these players this season. I can’t wait to see how far they can go.”

Ma’asi began playing for Saints’ Under-18s at just 16 years old, and has continued to impress over the past two seasons.

Catching the attention of England selectors, the hooker was named in England’s Under-18s development squad last summer.

Coles meanwhile was part of Saints’ unbeaten Under-18s pre-season before an injury curtailed his campaign, the young lock having already successfully toured South Africa with England over the summer and featured in the Under-19 International Series.

Captaining Saints’ Under-18s this season, flanker Wallace’s grit and determination – coupled with his excellent set-piece work – has seen him rise through the ranks in the Academy and become a regular in the side.

Utility-back Connor Tupai, son of former Saint and Bedford Blues legend Paul, has impressed at fly-half and centre over his time in the junior set-up and also puts pen to paper.

And Ollie Sleightholme’s try-scoring ability quickly put him on the rugby map, with the young winger called up to Team England for the Rugby Sevens at the Commonwealth Youth Games last summer.

Helping the side collect the silver medal, the fleet-footed winger then linked up with Saints’ own Sevens team as they bagged the Singha Premiership Rugby Bowl title back in July.

“It remains a dream of mine to pull on the Black, Green and Gold jersey for the first team here at Franklin’s Gardens, and I am delighted to have taken another step towards finally doing that,” said Sleightholme.

Tupai added: “We all know we still have a long way to go. I can’t speak for all the lads, but the opportunity to stay on and progress further with my boyhood club is massive for me.

“The Academy set-up here is among the best in the country, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.”