Anger and shock at Yorkshire rugby academy being axed

Former England lock Tom Palmer has branded the Rugby Football Union’s decision to allow the Yorkshire Rugby Academy to close as “ shocking” ending a system that gave Stuart Lancaster his first coaching opportunity and delivered Danny Care, Luther Burrell and Rob Webber onto the test scene.
Palmer won 42 England caps in a career that started as a teenager with Leeds when the club was operating at the top of the English game. The lock went onto to play for Wasps, Stade Francais and Gloucester and is now defence coach at Rouen in the French second tier of professional rugby alongside former England captain Richard Hill.
Palmer said: “It is shocking and Yorkshire is the biggest rugby playing county and needs to have some kind of academy. It really took off when Stuart Lancaster was in charge and an audit showed Leeds had one of the highest number of graduates in the Premiership.” Wasps back row forward Alex Rieder tweeted his anger at the decision abandon the academy saying: ”An absolute joke. I gained my opportunity to pursue a dream through Leeds academy. Yorkshire is a hub of talent and has some of the highest calibre of young talent in the country. If you want to sabotage/isolate the development of English rugby then congratulations job well done.“
Conor O’ Shea, the RFU’s director of performance, insisted that pre-pandemic, a funding model had been agreed to maintain the academy programme in conjunction with a new partner as Leeds Carnegie could no longer fund it, but that fell through. Leeds Carnegie’s relegation from the Championship has triggered the crisis and it means no academy system now exists in Yorkshire which has a bigger population than New Zealand and Ireland.
Lancaster, the former England head coach who is now with Leinster, was crucial to early success of the academy and his own son Daniel is a product of the system, making his first team debut for Leeds Carnegie last season. O’Shea is aware of the mounting anger in Yorkshire which has supplied 124 players to England and boasts 120 junior clubs.
O’Shea said that a short term plan was being put in place to ensure talented young players remained on the correct pathway and that a long term solution to deliver a viable academy in Yorkshire was being examined. This may not be based in Leeds and would also involve satellite facilities to recognise the long distances some players face to take part.
The RFU licence which enabled the Yorkshire academy to receive around RFU funding of around £350,000 ended on June 13 and budgets for the Union’s academy system will be cut in line with reductions being made in all areas. O’Shea said: “In the longer term is about having a focal point in Yorkshire and we had a very clear direction but that has had to be put on the back burner. Across the Gallagher Premiership it is going to be challenging in terms of the academy funding which is linked to revenue which is going down this year.
“We have to work smart this year and every academy will get the same level of investment. For Yorkshire we have to ensure coach development, player identification and development and if we can tick those three boxes in the short term we will be able to establish the programme that needs to be there. Yorkshire was a hot bed of players and we know how many good player will continue to come from the county. I feel for people in the short term but hopefully, they are comforted by the fact we are trying to re-establish it as it was. I have no doubt it will be again.”

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