Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Young Players End of Term Update

In January, after the farcical premature end to the LV Cup game against Quins I pondered on the subject of game time for young players.  Did we stack up?  Was it a problem?  Whose fault was it?

Well with the season finished and no warm trophy glow to keep us satisfied over the summer I've decided to re-vist the subject.

First of all let's look at the updated Tigers' numbers:

What's changed from January then?  We've upped the numbers of young players across the board; all three competitions saw increased use of under 23 players.  The return of Manu Tuilagi is largely responsible, in January he had only played 78 Premiership minutes, since his February return he has been an ever present.

Others have come to the fore; Fraser Balmain has seen his stock rise from 90 Prem minutes to 322, Pablo Matera from 70 to 300 as he settled in to the club.  Tiziano Pasquali and Harry Thacker have both seen Premiership debuts.

Pasquali was the youngest prop in the 3 major European leagues to see league action this season, even if he was only used for 13 minutes.

But we've also seen the fringe youngsters leave with depressing regularity.  6 of the 18 player used move on to pastures new.  Joe Cain has retired; Wells, Steele, Dunn, Purdy and Humphreys have all been released.  None were deemed worthy of Premiership starts but decisions are being made on these players earlier than ever.

Wells is only 20 years old, Ed Slater was 23 when he arrived from Australia, what would 3 years of development do for him?  

Even at this level there is a salary cap.  The club is allowed to spend £200k on players under 24 who earn under £30k, otherwise they count in the senior cap.  Manu is obviously beyond that as surely are Owen Williams and Pablo Matera.  But there is a good chance that the others are part of this cap, alongside the generation below like Brugnara, Hubbert, Milne and Tresidder.  

Domestically we still sit bottom of the table but the gap has been closed:

Back in January Tigers had almost half the ratio of younger players than any other.

Wasps lead the way but 20% of their total is Joe Launchbury and 40% of their minutes are taken up by players in the final year of qualification. 

Harlequins have used 17 different players under the age of 23 in the Premiership and 20% of game time is taken up by these players.  

But again they are heavily skewed to the top end with the 8 players born September 1990 to August 1991 constituting 71% of their under 23 minutes.  

Exeter's numbers are perhaps the most interesting.  They have gone for a limited number of players gaining lots of minutes.  Only 6 young players have been used in the league but 5 of them have played more minutes than Fraser Balmain.  Cowan-Dickie, Hill, Slade, Nowell and Ewers seem to be the nucleus of a new Exeter.

Europe wide only 7 French teams played their youngsters less often than we did, including double winners Toulon.  Ospreys were Europe leaders with 36.75% of game time going to under 23 year olds.

Who is likely to come through in the future?  Balmain and Pasquali have been talked up by Cockerill in the Mercury, Thacker continues to impress in his opputunities.  Many have been concerned about the lack of chances given to Javiah Pohe and George Catchpole, especially during the injury crisis in the centres this season.

But given another year of development they will be better when their chance comes.  Only 8 backs born in 1994 or '95 played more than one league game last season.

It would take a special kind of optimist to claim that Tigers are on the cusp of unearthing another generation of world class talent but do we really need one?  The majority of our key players are under 30 and coming into their prime.  

Ben Youngs, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Logo Mulipola, Marcos Ayerza, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Vereniki Goneva and Manu Tuilagi are all world class with plenty of time ahead of them.  Ed Slater, Pablo Matera, Steve Mafi, Graham Kitchener and Miles Benjamin are all young and full of potential to join them soon.

Key signings to this group with the aim of greater glory in the new Champions Cup seems like a better priority than blooding youngsters for the sake of it.

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