OXFORD Harlequins believe they have taken a big step towards creating the rugby players of tomorrow after launching a new academy.

The Marston Ferry Road-based club have worked tirelessly over the summer months to ensure the programme is in place ahead of the coming season.

Quins’ Jack Barclay Academy, which has replaced the South West 1 East side’s colts set-up, has been up and running for a number of weeks and is aimed at keeping 16-20-year-olds involved in the game.

Nearly 40 players, up from the 15 signed on before the launch, have been attending weekly training as well as strength and conditioning sessions.

Under 17 and 18 teams will also be involved in competitive leagues from September.

Stuart Wells, Quins’ youth chairman, is behind the idea, securing sponsorship from Bentley dealership Jack Barclay, as well as Magna Carta College in Oxford, to move the idea forward.

He said: “It’s really exciting.

“There was no clear pathway for 16-20-year-olds.

“There’s colts rugby, which tends to struggle a bit, particularly as boys discover beer and girls, and we were looking into it.

“A few years ago there was an academy in Oxford that did really well and a big percentage of our club’s senior team that did well.”

Magdalen College School’s rugby professional Alan Awcock, who played in the Aviva Premiership for London Welsh, is the academy’s head coach.

Former player Gavin Allinson is coaching and working on nutrition, while Wells is performance manager.

Quins’ head of rugby Alan Hancock, as well as players Jack Crowe, Jack Robinson and Sam Watkinson will also provide specialist sessions.

Wells said: “We spoke to Alan Awcock and he was excited as well.

“He said he would use everything he knew about being in the Premiership and various academy structures, to set it up with the goal of giving players who really wanted to progress a pathway through to national and regional leagues, which I don’t think really exists inside this area.

“The numbers have gone through the roof, way ahead of last year.

“The players find it a really young, vibrant, professional environment and the parents are seeing the players are blown away by it.

“There is enthusiasm among the players – they can tell it’s something special for a 17-year-old to be coached by a guy who has played in the Premiership.”

Mark Bentley, general manager of Jack Barclay, said: “We’ve worked well with the club before and it’s a great opportunity for young people in Oxfordshire to play and develop their skills.”