Penrith Rugby Club Colts player Luke Coulston and former Upper Eden and Penrith player Sam Birbeck have been selected for the England Academy at the under-16 and under-18 age group, respectively.
Luke — a 16-year-old former Ullswater Community College student is currently studying at Gosforth Academy, while Sam plays for Kirkby Lonsdale and is a student at Newton Rigg College, Penrith. Both are part of the Newcastle Falcons Academy.
Luke moved to Gosforth to attend sixth form after selection by Newcastle Falcons for their academy. He is studying for a diploma in sporting excellence alongside A-levels.
Gosforth Academy plays in the AASE (Achieving Academic and Sporting Excellence) League against college teams from each Premiership club.
He will now also have England squad training, where he will be looking to impress the selectors with a chance of representing his country.
Luke is Year 12/age 16, so has another year in the squad and at Gosforth.
Sam, who is 16 and lives at Soulby, near Kirkby Stephen, will join the under-18 academy. He is the brother of Upper Eden RUFC co-captains Will and James Birbeck, and began his career at the Kirkby Stephen club.
Neither Upper Eden nor Penrith could raise separate sides at his age group, so they combined, and Sam moved to Penrith and also began training with Newcastle Academy.
Sam, who works as a shepherd, and is the son of Geoff and Linda Birbeck, plays at prop forward.
He and Luke join Louie Johnson — another Penrith RUFC youth player — who is also in the England Academy Players programme and has been training with the under-18 squad recently. Louie, who attends Sedbergh School, is in the year above Luke.
They are two of 12 Newcastle players selected from all clubs in Cumbria, Northumberland and Durham.
“For Penrith to have two players included is great for the club, the coaches and teachers involved and for the mini and youth players to aspire to,” said Mark Bowman, chairman of youth rugby, who himself played for England Colts.
Luke is specialising as a second row, which will come as no surprise to those who have followed his progress at Ullswater Community College, and the club.
At 6ft 7in and still growing, he has now started to fill out physically and is up to 95kg.
Luke hopes to play rugby at the highest level he can and said: “I am working as hard as I can enjoying the coaching and will see where it takes me, but I know from the coaches that I may be age 20-21 before I reach my potential.”
He has enjoyed the input from Falcons players, including co-captain Sean Robinson, but, due to COVID restrictions, has not had a chance to mix with the first XV players as much as would normally be the case.
Luke said he was indebted to his family who commit a lot of time and expense in support his rugby.
James Ponton, head coach of Newcastle Falcons Academy, said: “Luke was first noticed by Falcons on the rugby pathway in the Developing Player Programme.
“He literally stood out, ticking the physical potential criteria of GASP game sense, attitude, skill set, physical) straight away.
“When I first saw Luke not only did his height stand out but his aggression and physicality in the tackle. For someone so long limbed and skinny he was well co-ordinated and could really have an impact in the tackle. A pretty rare combination.”
Academy manager Mark Laycock said: “It’s a hugely positive time for the academy, even with everything going on. We have seven under-17s and five under-18s who have been invited to England training camps, and we have a good spread from throughout our region.
“We have four from Cumbria, four from County Durham and four from Northumberland, so it just shows the talent we have all around our patch.”