Young fly-half Tom Whiteley shows impressive composure in Saracens’ victory over Newcastle
- Credit: Marek Dorcik / wiredphotos.co.uk
Saracens’ academy coach Ian Vass will have been pleased with what he saw in Saturday’s home win over Newcastle in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Lessons had clearly been learned from the opening-round defeat to Gloucester and, at the halfway stage in Pool One, Sarries are effectively now competing with Northampton Saints for the all-important top spot and a place in the semi-finals.
Northampton have the upper hand after winning both of their opening two fixtures in the tournament but Saracens are only one point behind, having picked up three bonus points from their clashes so far.
Vass will have been particularly impressed with the composure of 20-year-old Tom Whiteley in the weekend’s 29-18 victory over the Falcons at Allianz Park.
The young fly-half had been introduced in the second half of the defeat to Gloucester and, although Sarries suffered a surprising decline in that period, his kicking was on point and he also scored a try.
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Vass clearly felt the youngster was ready to pick up where he had left off, and that faith was justified as Whiteley impressed from the start on Saturday. There were no obvious mental scars from the outing at Kingsholm and he produced a mature and tenacious performance in north London.
Having shown his ability to finish off a move in the west country, this time he was the instigator. Although there were signs of inexperience, he directed the play confidently against a Falcons outfit which featured experienced players in key positions, and was at the heart of most of Saracens’ good work, particularly in the second half as they moved through the gears and opened up a healthy lead.
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He kicked his goals too, successfully converting three of the four tries scored by his team-mates, and he iwill be learning his trade alongside some of the most accurate players in the country alongside Owen Farrell, Alex Lozowski and even Marcello Bosch.
Like 21-year-old centre Tom Griffiths, who scored two tries against Gloucester last week, Whiteley is dually contracted to Bedford Blues. Both players have taken their opportunities to shine in the Anglo-Welsh Cup so far and appear to have bright futures ahead of them.
It just remains to be seen when they will get their next chances to impress. The final two rounds of the Anglo-Welsh Cup, against Scarlets and Leicester, will not be played until January so the chances are that Sarries’ youngsters will now have some time to assess their performances and work on improving the areas which were not quite up to scratch in the opening rounds – particularly their game management in defence.
However, with Saracens now returning to league action away against Sale in the midst of the Autumn international series, Mark McCall will need to draw upon his squad strength, and all of the club’s reserves will need to be ready to step up if called upon.
The same will apply during the Six Nations in the new year and, when the injuries start to mount up and add to the availability issues, McCall may have cause to call upon his most promising youngsters.
Whiteley has certainly shown that he should be included in that category and, like Griffiths, he could just play a part in Sarries’ chase for domestic and European glory this season.
Follow me on Twitter @AaronTillyer