Rugby, academies and the formative years

Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs offloads during the European Champions Cup Quarter Final Match between

Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs offloads during the European Champions Cup Quarter Final Match between Exeter Chiefs and Leinster Rugby at Sandy Park on 10 April 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK - Credit: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Academies across British rugby will have a series of success stories from the years since their inception. Our very own Exeter Chiefs have a number of to call upon, with the obvious quality of Ewers, Hill, Nowell, Slade, Cowan-Dickie, Sam Simmonds or more recently, Maunder, Townsend, Joe Simmonds. 
The Chiefs have been very productive in spotting and developing those talents and bringing them through to be major first-team assets. Not just squad players but players who lead the line and achieve the highest honours in sport, with hopefully a few of these home-grown Chiefs going on to represent the Lions this summer. 
At the heart of Exeter’s academy is the concerns of the individual, their personal development and well-being. But still there are some harsh realities being found out by young athletes regularly through injury or simply not cutting the mustard. 
Every professional sport has a difficult pathway to the top with many pitfalls along the way, and rugby is no different, with huge pressures from a young age in terms of performance, conditioning, finances and most significantly, education. 
Allowing freedom to develop as a person and an athlete is crucial in my eyes. 
Developing in rugby terms at this time, perhaps has never been as limited, with some many games in a regular calendar not happening. With no LV cup, and the A-league matches only recently resuming again, minutes on the pitch are golden.  
The chiefs were able to expose a few new, young, faces when the squad was depleted from the six nations but not in an ideal scenario being thrust into the deep end of Premiership rugby. 
My personal route to becoming a professional rugby player was different to your usual path, but I am very grateful that it happened as it did, joining the professional or academy ranks toward the end of my time at university, allowing me to play a huge amount of rugby perhaps without the constraints of an academy structure. 
A rugby academy helps to guide each individual to develop on and off the pitch and to have the awareness of educating and gaining experience for life after rugby. 

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