A TOP schoolboy rugby player is preparing to move into the big league after signing with premiership side Newcastle Falcons.

Barnard Castle School sixth former and open-side flanker Guy Pepper is enjoying a double celebration after joining Falcons’ senior academy and securing an offer from Durham University to read a degree in sport and exercise science.

Guy, of Eggleston, in Teesdale, is the latest in a string of Barnard Castle School boys given their first professional contracts by the club over the years including current Falcons forward Freddie Lockwood, Alex and Mathew Tait, Bath hooker Ross Batty and Lee Dickson, who has returned to the school as director of rugby after a successful career playing scrum-half  for Northampton Saints and England.

The 18-year-old No 7 will begin pre-season training with the first squad in July, having trained with the junior squad twice a week during the pandemic, in a key step towards his ultimate goal of playing for club and country.

“I would like to play at the highest level possible, for the Falcons and England, and was so pleased and relieved to be offered a contract and a place at Durham University,” said Guy, who is studying A Levels in maths, chemistry and PE.

“It has been a strange year because of the pandemic with all fixtures cancelled, including a match I was selected to play for England against Scotland. But at school we are a close group and have worked to support each other as we turned up for training knowing there were no games to play.”

Mr Dickson said he was thrilled for Guy who thoroughly deserved every success. “He is going to the right club for him at the moment and he will settle in well there under the watchful eye of the likes of England forward Mark Wilson, from whom he will learn a great deal,” he said.

“Guy is an unbelievably hard worker with the right attitude to sport and school life. The first time I watched him I knew he had something special and yet he never shouts about it. Not many people in school even knew he had been training with England as he goes about his business in such a quiet fashion.

“In my opinion he is very gifted with a bright future. He reads the game so well and can kick the ball. He is the perfect link between the backs and the forwards and, for me, could be the next Tom Curry.”

Mr Dickson said it had been a difficult year for everyone and for school rugby, losing virtually two seasons to the pandemic.

But rugby at Barnard Castle School was continuing to go from strength to strength with seven players in the current Falcons Junior Academy and many younger ones moving up through the ranks.

“I have seen some real talent develop over the past two years and we currently have around 40 boys turning up every week for training, with a smile on their faces, even though they know they won’t be able to play a match,” he said.

“A lot of students have come back to rugby because they had heard how good it is. We want to be the fittest team around and, as a teacher and coach, it is important to me to have as many pupils as possible playing and enjoying rugby at any level.”