- England Academy Player scheme allows young players to gain experience in RFU Championship
- The Championship is a great place to go and play - Corbisiero
The Championship has long been considered a conveyor belt for up-and-coming rugby players to ply their trade before making the step up to the Premiership, with 16 of the current England squad having played there in the formative stages of their career.
England and London Irish prop Alex Corbisiero, who spent time at Nottingham during the 2007 World Cup, says that he would thoroughly recommend the opportunity, should it arise, to his London Irish team mates.
Speaking from England’s Loughborough training camp ahead of the RBS 6 Nations clash against France, Corbisiero said: “I think if the opportunity comes where you’re not getting enough game time or regular play, the Championship is a great place to go and play.
“It’s very physical, the forwards battle, the backs battle, it’s a tough place to play and a good place to learn, and I’d definitely recommend it.”
Corbisiero was registered with Nottingham when he was a member of the London Irish Academy as part of the England Academy Player (EAP) system.
It enabled him to gain valuable experience in the Championship whilst also being eligable to play under Aviva Premiership Licence for London Irish.
During the 2007 World Cup, the A-League came to a halt as the Premiership teams lost a handful of players to the International stage, but for an 18-year old Corbisiero coming out of the London Irish academy, Nottingham offered him the chance to continue playing.
“It was a decision for my development. During the World Cup there’s no A-League and being in the academy, looking for game time is key for your development.
“Neal Hatley, our academy manager realised the need if I wanted to progress, especially as it was my U20s year with England, I’d need to go somewhere where I’d be playing a good level of rugby with a good physical battle.”
Corbisiero is convinced that the experience he gained with Nottingham was beneficial to his career.
“On the field it definitely improved me; it was a big step up physicality-wise.
“It helped me well for when I came back to London Irish and then cracked on with the England U20’s Six Nations.”
The England Academy Player scheme has been an undeniable success, with many players, including Corbisiero, graduating to their parent club's first XV on their return from the Championship, and some now featuring in the England starting line-up.
It was a big step up physicality-wise - Corbisiero
Owen Farrell, Dan Cole and Joe Marler have all joined Corbisiero on the list of players to come through the England Academy Player scheme, showing a dedication to developing their own game in a bid to compete at the highest level.
Photo: Getty Images
Some clubs have put the development of young players at the forefront of their priorities, and have been rewarded by the talent that is produced.
Bedford Blues, who finished the first stage of current campaign second to Bristol, have played a key part in the careers of three England regulars.
Farrell, Cole and Mouritz Botha, were all loaned to Bedford in the early stages of their career, proving the lasting effect that playing in England’s second tier of professional rugby can have.
It is not just through the England Academy Player scheme, however, that young players are finding benefits in the Championship, with the top clubs taking on the baton to develop players in their own right.
Just last month, centre Tom Bedford made the step up to the Premiership, joining Newcastle Falcons on a permanent deal from Bedford, after signing only a year before from Exeter Chiefs.
At present, the Championship is also represented in the current England U20 setup - with Chris Walker, Dominic Barrow and Tommy Bell of Leeds Carnegie in the 32-man squad.
Carnegie have also been bolstered by the renewal of Jacob Rowan’s contract, an U20s graduate himself, who undertook loan spells at Nottingham Rugby and Doncaster Titans.
Rowan has been a regular feature this season, scoring four tries from the back-row, and feels that Leeds are on the up due to their policy of putting young players first.
He said: “There is a great unity in the squad and we have a collective goal that we all want to achieve together.
“I know a lot of the other lads are also looking to agree new deals and the club is well down the line with their recruitment plans for next season.”
Photo: RFU Archive
England U20s player Josh Bassett is another who has found the coaching offered in the Championship to be invaluable to his development.
Currently the top try-scorer in the league, Bassett looks on course to become another success story from the Bedford conveyor belt and he is under no illusions about how important the Championship has been for him.
He said: “I think it [the Championship] has been the main thing that’s aided my development.
“The coaching staff and the level of rugby I’ve been exposed to week in, week out have definitely helped.”