In just over a weeks’ time, Sale Sharks will be kicking off against Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup semi-finals.
By then, the Six Nations would have begun and this is generally the time of year that sides in the domestic competitions give their youngsters the opportunity to shine whilst the senior players are lighting things up for their nation.
Back in September and October, Sale won all four of their opening games in the Premiership Cup, including beating Saracens 36-17. Playing a mixture of senior and academy players for that game, the Sharks quite simply outclassed their opponents in North London and will be hoping for a similar result next Friday at the AJ Bell as the side aim to get their hands on some silverware this season.
When not involved for the first team, Sale’s youngsters have to get their minutes elsewhere. Steve Diamond’s staff favour dual-registering players with local National League clubs. As a result, this gives the players the chance to gain valuable experience and for academy coaches, it is the chance to see how their young players fare in men’s rugby.
It is a path well-travelled in the North-West, with Sharks regulars Tom Curry, Will Cliff, Josh Beaumont and Ross Harrison all having pulled on the shirts of National League clubs prior to establishing themselves in the first team.
He's a recent World Cup finalist & World Player of the Year nominee, but England's Tom Curry knows that every step in his journey to the big stage has been vital – including his time in the National Leagues. #GallagherPrem
— NCA Rugby (@nca_rugby) November 28, 2019
“There’s almost like a role model aspect to it,” Gus Warr, Sale Sharks scrum-half, said. “There are a lot of different routes to professional rugby, all the boys have pretty much played university rugby or in the National Leagues.
“To see them boys kick on, progress and become first team regulars, international superstars, it shows you that you can do it. Playing the rugby is brilliant, but then you also have to do the extras which you see around Carrington.”
Warr was the replacement scrum-half earlier this season when Sale defeated the English champions in their backyard and will no doubt be keen to go again against Mark McCall’s side at the AJ Bell. Playing with Fylde for the majority of last season, Warr enjoyed a good campaign, even breaking into the England U20s squad for the Six Nations.
It seems that Sale will be well represented at this year’s U20s Six Nations as well. With five Sharks players in Alan Dickens’ 2020 Elite Player Squad, Neil Briggs’ current crop of Sale youngsters are maintaining a strong history of propping up the U20s.
One such player to be names in Dickens’ squad is Tom Roebuck. Tall and fast, Roebuck is every inch the modern winger. Like Warr, he also played in the victory over Saracens, but has played the large majority of his rugby so far this season under Warren Spragg at Fylde, along with fellow England U20s player Joe Carpenter.
“Most top players at this club (Sale Sharks) and other clubs across the country have come from a dual-registered club,” Roebuck said. “I think that is vital at this age, especially when you don’t get as much first team experience as the older players.
“To get those games and learn, adapt and get better, I really think that’s when you push into that first team. The pathway clearly works, and you can tell and they’re, a top bunch of lads (at Fylde). They are still quite young in terms of the league as a whole and I think they have the potential to do well.”
Much like the Curry twins, Cam Redpath’s talents were recognised at an early age. A former Sedbergh schoolboy, perhaps the foremost rugby school in the country, Redpath made his Sale Sharks debut at the age of 17, even gaining a place in Eddie Jones’ initial squad for the 2018 South Africa tour, but injury halted the centre’s chances of an England debut at the age of 18.
The injury was a severe one. Having an ACL reconstruction, Redpath was eased back into men’s rugby. Getting registered to play with Sale FC, the back played several times for Jonathan Keep’s side before being selected for the Sharks again.
"Top four is realistic for us this season." 📈
"Or we can whip back into mediocrity and stay mid-table for 10 years!"
"We've got the cricket and football in Manchester…why not have the rugby?!" 🦈
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 3, 2020
“The main thing was just getting that confidence in playing again and FC was where I learnt that most when I was coming back because the people around you are good players and it is men’s rugby which I wasn’t used to,” Redpath said.
“I came straight from schoolboy rugby where, I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but it is a lot simpler to make a line break, it is a lot easier to break a tackle and you are not going to get whacked if you do something.
“I know you play against some big boys at school nowadays, but it still can’t compare to a 30-year-old man who is 120 kilograms compared to an 18-year-old who is only 19 kilograms. That was the main thing, getting men’s rugby into me and understanding the game more.”
Sale’s semi-final against Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup is on Friday 7th February at the AJ Bell.