HARTPURY’S acclaimed rugby academy is celebrating after three of its former players were named in squads for the Six Nations, which starts this weekend.

Louis Rees-Zammit, Alex Craig and Billy Burns are set to become the latest of more than 200 Hartpury alumni to play international rugby after winning the chance to make their full debuts at the 2020 showpiece tournament.

And they join seven other Hartpury alumni in contention for places, with Ross Moriarty (Wales), Jonny May and Ellis Genge (both England), Seb Negri, Callum Braley and Jake Polledri (Italy), plus Adam Hastings (Scotland) also hoping to be in action.

Gloucester RFC’s Louis, who will be 19 on Sunday, has been named in the 35-man Wales squad alongside the likes of former Cinderford RFC flyer Josh Adams for the first time, while Alex and Billy were called up to the Scotland and Ireland squads respectively.

All three players studied a Level 3 Extended Diploma Sport (Performance and Excellence) Rugby as well as being members of the Junior Rugby Academy at Hartpury.

The rugby pathway at Hartpury – an RFU University Partner – means that alongside their studies, students can play for Hartpury College, then Hartpury University and its Championship club Hartpury University RFC.

Wayne Thompson, manager of the Junior Rugby Academy, said: “I think Hartpury is unique in the sense that we’ve got a platform for college rugby, university rugby and Championship rugby all on one site.

“We have a fluid pathway for players to progress, alongside links with Premiership academies and regional academies in Wales.

“So in terms of placing players at the right level at the right time, I think that’s why you see so many players progress into professional rugby from Hartpury, be it through the whole of our pathway or finding exit routes at different points.

“What also helps set Hartpury apart is the access that our students have to outstanding facilities and specialist coaches.

“Those specialist coaches cross over from our college programme to our university programme, and university to our Championship side, so you get reference to the same coaches all the way through.”

Wayne said he was delighted that Louis, Alex and Billy now had an opportunity to join the illustrious roll of honour of Hartpury alumni by playing international rugby.

Louis has recently signed a long-term deal at Gloucester after becoming the club’s youngest ever Premiership player, its youngest ever player in a European match, the youngest player ever to score a hat-trick in the Premiership, and winning the December award for Premiership player of the month.

“Louis is one of those players that was able to step up reasonably quickly into the senior game through his speed and athleticism when he came here at 16,” said Wayne.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise what he has achieved at Gloucester, but the fact he has achieved it so quickly has caught a few people by surprise.

“A lot of that is down to opportunity – to potentially play AASE rugby for Hartpury, being involved with an academy such as Gloucester, and selection for the Gloucester first team due to injuries to other players. He has taken those opportunities and done extremely well.

“Alex is a prime example of someone really benefiting from our rugby pathway, spending two years in our Under-18 Academy, playing for the BUCS team, and being signed to the Academy at Gloucester having learned his trade within our system.

“Then he played a full season in the Championship, so he found that next level, then stepped into the Premiership.

“Billy played for our under-18s side and signed to Gloucester Academy but used our Saturday side as a means to develop, before pushing on.

“Our pathway is about pushing players to the best of their ability. For some, that is going to be international rugby, for others that is about being a very good Championship player.

“But it’s about doing the best by our players, off the pitch as well as on it through our dual career pathway.”