- The 2017/18 AASE League competition is now underway
- Meet the AASE League coach trying to change the game
- View all the fixtures and results here
Over the last nine years the AASE League competition has been synonymous with Hartpury College.
The Gloucester-based team won seven titles in a row, becoming a prodigious force in a competition between 14 colleges across the country all of which are linked with professional academies.
But for the first time last season, Hartpury were stopped. The 2016/17 competition was won by Exeter College who beat Gosforth Academy 53-19 in the final and the team from the South West are now looking to start a dynasty of their own.
“Hartpury are an established college who’ve been around for many a year,” said Exeter College head coach Sam Morton. “Their success is undeniable, but we put everything down to what we do.
“Last year was a special year and a special group of boys in all honesty. But we’ve said to the boys from the beginning, ‘last year’s group of boys were the champions, you’ve got to make your own history.
“It’s easy to get to the top but it’s harder to stay there, everyone’s going to come for us this season, we’ve got to go for them first and we’ve got to get the first shots in.”
Exeter put that mindset into practice last week in their first fixture of the 2017/18 season, dispatching SGS Filton College 60-15 before beating Beechen Cliff 40-20 in round two yesterday.
Disrupting a monopoly such as Hartpury’s is no easy task, and a major reason for Exeter’s success in 2016 was the new partnership with the Exeter Chiefs Rugby Academy.
The link-up was formalised in September 2016 and meant that those educating themselves at the college got the increased support that comes with links to a Premiership club.
And as most things the Exeter Chiefs touch at the moment turn to gold, the same became true of their partnership with the college.
“The link is massive for the college,” Morton added. “To use the example of this weekend, one of our players, Lewis Pearson, got a run out for the Exeter Chiefs A League side against Bristol.
“It’s nice to have that connection within the academy and within the college programme, we are able to support the Chiefs as and when they need, and they reciprocate as well.
“Matt Jess retired from the Chiefs first team last year and he’s come in and taken part in our coaching group.
“It’s great to have someone who’s recently out of the game give the boys help, not all the time on the pitch, just little things off it as well.”
As well as receiving advice from the likes of Jess, players at the college can look to the example of England’s Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie, who both came through the Chiefs academy system.
And the college looks likely to produce Premiership players of the future, as four of this season’s team have been selected for an upcoming England Under 18s training camp.
Morton gave an insight into some of the players to look out for this season.
“There’s Lewis Pearson, who is really new to rugby but he’s really excelled in the environment he’s been put into.
“He was a swimmer beforehand, he came out of swimming at 13 and went down to his local rugby club. He’s already 6’5’’ but we’re pretty sure he’s going to grow some more.
“Rich Capstick too, he got injured on the England Under 18s tour to South Africa over the summer but he has a bright future.”
Next up for Exeter is a clash against St Paul’s Catholic College as they look to make their mark in the AASE League history books.
All 14 teams are linked to the Academy of a professional side and over the years AASE has become a successful breeding ground for some of England’s household names.