Below you can read four unique stories from former Academy players who have each taken a different path. From first team star Josh Beaumont studying at University before gaining a contract to Josef Murphy who was offered a contract but chose to leave in order to pursue a degree in accounting and finance. Each story provides an insight into the many ways the academy helps people progress in life regardless of the path they choose.
By 2020 we want 75% of the first team squad to be Academy graduates – Brendan Thomas, Academy Manager
As a late developer, I missed out on the opportunity to be picked up through the junior academy so instead I decided to go to University to gain a degree and try and push my rugby career as far as possible via this route. I studied Geography at Durham University and whilst playing for the University in the BUCS leagues, I also played for my home rugby club Fylde in National One.
I was offered an academy contract by Sale after I played against them in a pre-season match for Fylde. This was a part time contract as the club were fully understanding that I had ambitions to finish my degree first. I was lucky enough to play first team rugby during my final year at University, making my debut against Montpellier in January 2013. As well as playing for a very successful Durham side, I also represented England students for two years, which gave me my first taste of International rugby. Having exposure to playing and training with the Sale first team really enhanced my rugby at student level and aided my transition from full time student into full time professional rugby player.
When I was at school, I had two dreams: to study at Oxford, and to become a professional rugby player. I always thought that these two were incompatible and that when I left school, I would have to make the difficult choice to leave one behind. This, however, has not been the case and since graduating from the Sharks junior academy, I have been fortunate enough to be able to pursue both of these seemingly conflicting passions.
I have just finished my first year reading history at the University of Oxford at St Benet’s Hall, and whilst many of my friends have spent their summer reading and travelling, I have been training with internationals and learning daily in a demanding professional environment. Balancing my rugby and academic life has been challenging, but I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to do so. In my first term I spent most of my time getting to grips with the academics while preparing for The Varsity Match, the age-old traditional match between Oxford and Cambridge played at Twickenham in December. This involved a high level of training, with many current and former professionals taking part in the annual match. After this, I was involved in Sale’s A League campaign as well as training full time at Carrington whenever I had breaks from term and university rugby.
This summer, I have been training with the first team whilst doing the required reading and preparations for my next academic year. I have also been with Sale F.C. and played for them against Doncaster last weekend. The coaches at Sharks have been incredibly understanding of my academic demands and are happy to balance my training load to fit with my university schedule.
Having this relationship with Sale Sharks whilst at university has been brilliant for my personal development, teaching me how to focus and perform both on and off the pitch. Sale’s professional coaching and support network, combined with the unique experience of studying and playing rugby at Oxford has provided me with experiences and growth that I would not have expected when I was still at school, and I am relishing the opportunity.
Having played rugby since starting with Lymm RUFC under 7s, the game has been an important part of my life. I enjoyed success with Lymm High School and County, but only linked up with Sale Academy towards the end of Under 16’s. I had been put forward by my High School coach Lee Pickles for a trial with Sale which went reasonably well and I was invited to join the junior academy. That year I joined the squad that attended the Wellington Festival where I played against other regional academies from the rest of England. It was an exciting opportunity for my rugby, and being part of a professional set up was a big step up from my club rugby. I had to train harder and pay a lot of attention to my diet. As well as being coached on the pitch, we also received specialist coaching and listened to a range of lectures on a whole host of subjects including nutrition. This was my first experience of the professionalism that comes with elite sport. With this my rugby developed and I developed both physically and mentally. My nerves began to settle as I became a regular member of the team. I was asked to join the Under 18s squad the following season after a successful pre-season at Exeter. The Under 18s is the first time the academies play in a competitive league against each other and I was fortunate to start getting some game time with my debut being against Newcastle after having coming on as substitute. I was then able to command a starting position as part of a really great side that managed to win the Northern Academies League resulting in a Final Day play off against the Southern Winners Harlequins at Worcester Warriors ground Sixways. The build up to this match was awesome with a prematch speech from Steve Diamond. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the win but the whole occasion was unforgettable. I had a number of memorable experiences the following season with a great tour to Ireland and games against Munster and Leinster and another Finals day game against Harlequins. I was also selected for the Jets and played against a Northampton side containing George North and Wasps. Unfortunately I had a knee operation early on I the season but after working hard with the physio coaching team I was able to get back for Finals day. Because of efforts I managed to get back stronger and fitter than I thought.
At the end of my season we received our final reviews. After some general conversation Brendan and Briggsy said they wanted to offer me a contract. I was delighted. I had always wondered if I was capable to play at the highest level and here I was being offered a professional contract. I wasn’t sure how to react! The academy had been so good for me over those 2 and a half years, not just from a rugby perspective but in my personal development. The Academy had taught me to be more self reflective and to set myself goals, both on and off the pitch. I also loved the teamwork and “crack” of working with the other lads. To this point my objective had been to attend University and combine rugby with my studies. However this contract meant delaying my studies and focusing on becoming a professional rugby professional at the age of 18. This was unexpected and a major decision that I needed to consider. The Academy guys were great and quite understanding that this was not an easy decision. After much consideration I decided that I did not want to focus full time at this stage on my rugby and I wished to go way to University, whilst still playing rugby. I gained a place at Newcastle University to study Accountancy and Finance and the Uni has a strong rugby set up. I intend to keep my links with Sale and still want to progress my rugby to the highest level. But for me now I want to go to University and I’m comfortable with my decision. I leave the Academy with great memories and have made some great friends. Sale is going from strength to strength as a club and this is reflected in the experience you receive in the Academy. However I wish to keep strong links with the club that has such a strong influence on me and my game. Thanks guys!
I was part of the Sale Sharks academy set up right through from u15s until u18s. The initial buzz of being involved in such a professional setting as a young boy is obviously very exciting, but it is not until you step back and look at the support and accomplishments during your time at the club that you truly begin to appreciate what you have been lucky enough to experience.
During my time at the club I had to balance school, club and academy rugby as well as my academic work. The academy were always really supportive with these commitments and tried to target training so that it didn’t clash with school or club seasons, as well as always ensuring that your school work always came before academy training if that’s what was necessary. They were also really supportive in helping me make my transition to senior rugby with Chester RUFC which was invaluable and allowed me to make informed choices about my rugby future. Alongside this, the academy allowed me to follow an alternative pathway during my final year at u18s through the county programme. This culminated in me being involved in the England u18s Counties tour to Dublin in which we played two games against Ireland u18s. This coincided with still being involved in the u18s academy league and allowing me to play the highest level possible whilst representing my country.
The values and attributes that I learnt whilst being a member of the Sale Sharks Academy will stay with me throughout the rest of my life. The tour to Exeter, beating Leicester away for the first time at u18s level and playing at Kingston Park in arctic snowy conditions stand out as highlights for me personally. I made friends for life both coaches and players alike during my time at the club, and there is no doubt that the experience helped me to get to the next stage of my life at the University of Bath studying Psychology.