John Kingston on Harlequins academy breeding success
Harlequins have enjoyed prodigious success in recent years, promoting players from their academy into their first team who later go on to represent England at international level.
From seasoned veterans like Ugo Monye, Mike Brown and Danny Care to up and coming stars like Kyle Sinckler, Jack Clifford and Joe Marchant, the Harlequins development system has a long and distinguished track record of success.
We talked to Head Coach John Kingston about what had created that atmosphere of success.
He said: “Well it’s the academy, right down from those who are working full time in the office but also people who are talent spotting, connections and contacts who we have through the schools, and right down into the community.
“You’ve got to be professional in the way you go about it and comb the areas that are going to find you the players that you believe are the right ones.”
Harlequins have long maintained close links with schools in the Surrey region, monitoring teams from age groups as young as under-12.
Recruiting the best of this young talent has become something of a habit for this Harlequins team, but for Kingston the recruitment process goes far beyond talent.
He said: “It’s a character/talent thing. Talent is one thing, character is another. That’s the same with senior selection as well, it’s so underestimated.
“Anybody can see if somebody is a good player but what are they going to bring to the group.”
So it is that Harlequins have cultivated not just a hotbed of talent but also an environment where success is defined by much more than results and squad selection.
Kingston is adamant that some of the more experienced players in his squad benefitted greatly from playing in the Premiership ‘A’ league on a Monday night, often with young and untested academy players.
In this way, players as young as 18 can reap the developmental benefits of playing alongside genuine international talents on a weekly basis.
This isn’t always possible of course, but Kingston pursues such a scenario wherever possible.
He said: “If you had an ideal world you take someone like Joe Marchant who had played in the Premiership this year with Jamie next to him.
“That’s the ideal scenario, that’s what you want.”
Given their consistent record of success turning young players from raw talents into England internationals, Harlequins have become one of the most appealing academies for English youngster to approach.
Kingston said: “It’s a selling point for us. Without being arrogant, we’ve always said that when you’re talking to other people they say ‘well there must be something good about our coaching group because we’ve shown an ability to take people from a base and we turn them into England internationals’.”
In an era of big-money signings, Kingston and Harlequins continue to attempt to buck the trend by building from within, although without a play-off appearance since 2014, Harlequins fans may be hoping to see some genuine results in the years to come.