Inner Growth Moves The Falcons Forward

Issue 79

Newcastle Falcons' commitment to growing from within has been emphasised by the promotion of two senior academy players into the first team squad.

Back-rower Freddie Lockwood and winger Iwan Stephens are the two players stepping up into the senior ranks, having both signed first-team contracts for the next two seasons.

Their ascension backs up the club’s publicly stated mantra of nurturing their own talent, with Lockwood and Stephens having both enjoyed breakthrough seasons.

“I really enjoy it here at the Falcons, I’ve had a decent amount of game time lately and I want to push on and play a bit more for the first team over the next couple of years,” said Lockwood, the 21-year-old North Yorkshire native who came through with Barnard Castle School.

Making his Premiership debut away to champions Harlequins in March, Lockwood has put together a string of starts in recent weeks, helping create tries for his team-mates with his direct running style.

He added: “It’s great to be doing it at a time when a lot of the academy boys are pushing through together and starting to get a few more senior appearances. The club have been pretty open about choosing to go down that path, and as someone who’s been involved in the system there’s definitely a lot of talent within the local area.

“I’ve loved the involvements I’ve had with the first team over the last month or two, and the support from the crowd. I play a pretty direct game, which I think they like, and it’s just a case of keeping on learning and improving.”

Joining Lockwood in the senior ranks for next season is Stephens, the electric winger who is in only his second season of rugby union after switching from Leeds Rhinos rugby league club.

Academy manager and first team skills coach Mark Laycock said: “Iwan came up to us in the September of 2020, and I remember in his first week half our squad were off due to Covid, so Iwan had to play fly-half in a Premiership squad’s training session despite having never played rugby union for three years.

“That was a baptism of fire, but we signed him because he was a finisher. He’s definitely got that quality about him, he’s also a good goal-kicker, is very strong aerially and his work ethic is top class. It was a calculated punt on our part to get him in, but he’s done really well.”

Stephens scored tries in his first three games for the Falcons, dotting down against Harlequins, Bath and Wasps, with the current season seeing him also learning his trade at Blaydon as well as spending four months out with a knee injury. He said: “We’ve got an exciting group of predominantly English lads, a lot coming through the Falcons’ own system, and I think the future’s looking good for the club. There’s a lot of competition for places on the wing and in the back three, but everyone’s really supportive and we look to learn from each other.

“I’m improving my understanding of the game with the help of the coaches and other players here, and it’s a good environment to be in.

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