This report is slightly different from previous weeks, as I begin to cover players who do not appear on the official squad list for the Sale Jets. However, as these players turned out for the Jets last season, I think it is worthwhile to cover their progress. These players tend to be the top talents in the North-West playing below Championship level, generally under the age of 25.
SHAUN STRUDWICK – PROP/HOOKER – 25
Starting his career in the Wasps academy, Strudwick is already well-travelled for a prop despite being relatively young for the position. He spent time in Edinburgh, New Zealand and Chicago before settling in the North-West for Chester in the National League Two (North) last season. Strudwick started his career as a hooker, but in recent seasons has been played more regularly as a tight-head prop.
Indeed, he has been in possession of the starting 3 jersey for Chester over much of the last season, as they finished 11th out of 16. This represents good progress, as he had previously suffered a bad back injury leading him to miss the 2014/15 season for Edinburgh. For Chester, he made 26 appearances, of which 25 were starts, reflecting the immediate impact he made as the incumbent tight-head.
With the Jets last season, Strudwick appeared in the Jets’ first two games of the season against Worcester Cavaliers and Leicester A. In both games he came off the bench as a replacement tight-head, replacing young first-teamer Ciaran Parker. The replacement tight-head spot was covered in the following Jets games by Diogo Ferreira, already covered in this series, and reflects the fact that Strudwick is very unlikely to break into Sale Sharks’ first team.
For the upcoming season, I expect Strudwick to continue to build experience at lower-league level, in either England or one of the Celtic leagues below the PRO12. From what I can find online, Strudwick seems committed to coaching, particularly on the conditioning and fitness side, so perhaps he sees his future as part of the backroom team rather than a high-level representative on the field.
BRENDAN BERRY – HOOKER – 20
Brendan Berry is a hooker who came through the Myerscough Academy, representing the England Colleges and Schools team in 2014 and Lancashire under-20 in late 2015. In contrast to Strudwick, Brendan Berry has already made 20 senior appearances at the tender age of 20, playing last season for Macclesfield and the season before for Sedgley Park, both times in the National League Two (North).
Primarily a bench option (1 start in 10 appearances last season, and the exact same the season before), Berry was nevertheless trusted to do a job at the end of games for Macclesfield who emerged victors of the division. He finished the season without scoring, but with a yellow card against his old club Sedgley Park, which led to their fourth try in a narrow loss against Berry’s new side Macclesfield.
Last season Berry made three appearances for Sale’s Jets side, starting in the games against Worcester Cavaliers and Newcastle A, and coming off the bench against Leicester A. Next season, Berry may well find himself behind Ben Martin if he continues to appear for the Jets, Martin being a regular fixture for Sale’s under-18 over the last season and having already made an appearance for the Jets at age 18. The number 2 spot looks very competitive below first-team level for Sale Sharks, with Berry and Martin joining Johnny Matthews and Ted Stagg as non-first-teamers who hooked for Sale’s second string last season.
FORBES EDWARDS – CENTRE/WINGER
This week’s final player who isn’t formally listed as a Jet is Caldy’s Forbes Edwards. No relation to first-teamer Nev Edwards (as far as I’m aware!), Edwards is described as a “powerful centre/wing” who has recently represented Cheshire alongside his club duties. Originally from Cardiff RFC, he made one appearance for their first team, against Dinas Powys in an early-season game in the 2007/08 season. I cannot find an exact date of birth for Edwards online, but that date would suggest that he is roughly 28.
He joined Caldy for the 2015/16 season after a storming campaign for Sandbach the year before, in the National League Three (Midlands), a season in which he finished 3rd in the league’s try-scoring charts. Perhaps there is a comparison with Nev Edwards to be made after all – a high-flying outside back being picked up by Sale Sharks for a couple of trial games.
Edwards made three starts for the Jets last season, once at inside centre against Leicester A, and twice at outside centre against Newcastle A and Northampton Wanderers. He also came on off the bench against Gloucester United.
I can’t see anything more than another season at National League Two or One level for Edwards, despite his excellent record of 8 tries from 29 starts for Caldy last season.
MATT ROGERSON – BACK ROW – 22
Matt Rogerson was listed as a Jet for the 2015/16 season, and is listed again for the upcoming season. Rogerson has followed a similar path to Josh Beaumont, opting to complete his university education before considering rugby full-time. Fortunately, Rogerson studied at Loughborough University (2011-2015), whose team is considered the best university side in the country, and play in the third-tier National League One league.
Despite graduating in 2015, Rogerson made eight consecutive appearances for the Midlands side from March onwards, playing 80 minutes in each. This is a measure of the extent to which he is rated as a prospect, and he showed his ability with three tries across those eight starts. Again, I can’t find a fixed date of birth for Rogerson, but assuming that he entered university straight from sixth form, he would be 22 at the start of next season.
For the Jets, Rogerson started all five games, across the back row: at number 8 against Worcester Cavaliers, Leicester A and Newcastle A, and blindside flanker against Gloucester United and Northampton Wanderers. He also turned out for Sale Sharks in the 2015 Premiership Sevens tournament, showcasing his athleticism and powerful ball-carrying as Sale made the Plate final. He has been selected again for this weekend’s iteration of the annual pre-season event.
It’s really tough to say whether Rogerson will make the grade and break into the first-team picture. He was clearly very highly-rated at Loughborough, and his appearances in sevens and for the Jets suggest that the Sharks rate him as well. However, unless there are some serious injuries, it’s difficult to see him making any first-team appearances next season. With at least two players in each position for the back row slots, Sale appear well-stocked in that area of the field, and unless Rogerson is picked to train with the first team for the upcoming season as cover, I think a loan move to a National League One or Championship side would suit all parties.
JAKE POPE – LOOSE-HEAD PROP – 19
Continuing last week’s theme, I have saved this week’s best prospect until last. Giant prop Pope is probably the third-best under-20 player in the Sale Sharks set-up, behind George Nott and Ciaran Parker. He has already represented England under-20s, making two appearances in the under-20 Six Nations at the age of just 18. It is extremely unusual for props to play a year “up” in age grade rugby (even propping phenom Paul Hill made his first appearance at the same level at age 19), so this early promotion indicates how highly he is valued in the national set-up.
Alongside his international endeavours, Pope benefitted from Sale Sharks’ improved links with Sale FC last season, making 18 appearances on loan for the National League Two (North) side. Of these, 7 were starts, and he even managed 3 tries over the campaign, against Stourbridge, Preston Grasshoppers, and Broadstreet.
Pope, who is yet another to come through the Myerscough Academy, began all five Jets games last season on the bench, as a replacement loose-head prop. He was named on the bench for Sale Sharks’ senior side in the Challenge Cup fixture against Newport Gwent Dragons, as you’ll remember several youngsters were, but he was an unused substitute as fellow novice James Flynn was trusted to see out the 80 minutes.
Indeed, Flynn is the player I expect Pope to be competing with for first-team chances, as Ross Harrison and Eifion Lewis-Roberts will look to rotate the majority of the minutes for another season. As this is likely to be Lewis-Roberts’ last season as a starting option (his starts in the Premiership have already fallen from 14 in 2014/15 to 8 in 2015/16) and given that he will be out-of-contract and 36 by the end of the season, it is Flynn’s best chance to prove that he is ready to take on a rotation role supporting Harrison. If Flynn fails to convince Diamond, Pope may find himself thrust into action in a similar way to that which Harrison, Henry Thomas and Lee Imiolek have been in previous years. Diamond has shown that even with props, he is willing to trust players as young as 20 at Premiership level.
In pre-season videos posted by the club, Pope looks massive; definitely big enough for top level rugby, dwarfing James Flynn and Diogo Ferreira. This could be what is generously called “pre-season bulk” to be shed over the next few weeks’ training, but nevertheless Pope is carrying a very impressive frame for an 18 year old.
The other development option for Pope is that is that he continues his progress out on loan for another season, letting him experience regular game-time, and gaining the benefits (particularly in scrummaging) that come from that. However, the way that Sale Sharks have held back Flynn and Parker instead of loaning them out in previous seasons would suggest that Pope will more likely be kept training with the first-team squad as cover.
Next week, I will continue to mix in Jets who are not listed on the official club page, casting an eye over the seasons had by Tom Sanders, Ben Martin, Ted Stagg, Connor Wilkinson, and new signing Paolo Odogwu (a team-mate of Rogerson’s at Loughborough University).
The ages shown are the players’ ages on the 1st September 2016, normally the start of the Premiership season, and all statistics are compiled from rugby.statbunker.com and the relevant organising bodies (ERC, PRL, etc). Also, the term “loan” is used where “dual-registration” may be more accurate, for the sake of brevity.
Matt Ferguson doesn’t think Jake Pope will be playing sevens for Sale Sharks any time soon. His Twitter can be found here.
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