- The 2017/18 AASE League involves 14 teams with players aged 16-18
- Each side is linked to a professional academy
- View all the fixtures and results here
Four games into the 2017/18 AASE League campaign, it’s clear for all to see that Hartpury College are men on a mission.
The Gloucester-based team famously won seven titles in a row between 2009 and 2015 but lost their crown to Exeter College for the first time last season.
They’re four from four this year however, and there’s been some eye-catching results so far including a powerful 56-14 victory at Truro and Penwith College a fortnight ago.
We caught up with Hartpury’s Under-18 rugby academy manager Wayne Thompson to find out what makes his side tick.
For the last nine years the AASE League has been developing the next generation of stars, and Hartpury have been at the forefront of that process.
The competition is contested between 14 colleges across the country, all of which are linked with professional academies.
And Thompson connects a strengthening of these links with a rising standard of rugby across the league.
“We were disappointed not to retain the title last year, but if I’m being completely honest the overall standard of the league has got a lot better,” said Thompson.
“The links with the academies are a lot better now. Not winning the title last season ground on some of our players a little bit. A lot of them are involved again this year so we’re even hungrier.
“Ultimately though the boys are playing against better sides now and it’s better for their development.”
Boys to men
Hartpury’s name is synonymous with youth rugby and the college attracts some of the most talented young players from across the country.
The top team at the college plays in the AASE League but there’s four sides below that – around 170 Under-18 players in all.
When the players graduate from the college, Hartpury has four university teams and the senior side that play in the Greene King IPA Championship.
Thompson believes this pathway is one of the key reasons for Hartpury’s success over the years.
“The players come in at 16 and there’s a route to work all the way through to Championship rugby if they stay with us,” Thompson added.
“It’s a really fluid path from coaching in the Under-18s right through to our first team. I coach set piece and scrum for our first team, Luke Eves plays for the Championship side and coaches with us.
“Jon Goodridge is the Championship side’s backs coach, but also coaches the Under-18s, so there’s consistency across the board.
“All the new intake of students get viewed by all the coaches and players involved in the university side.”
Making the grade
33-year-old Thompson is a former Bristol Rugby prop, and with his role being to look after players under the age of 18, he stresses the importance of ensuring his teams succeed away from the pitch too.
“My main role is to manage that crossover,” added Thompson. “Rugby is one part of it but obviously it’s key that players come out of Hartpury getting the grades they should be getting.
“If there is a drop-off in grades then I’ll manage that and it does influence selection. It’s very hard to tell 16 and 17-year-olds that they might get injuries, but from my experience having come out of the game reasonably early I know that you need an education behind you.
“It’s my role to teach the students and get them to value that education.”