London Irish have fought off considerable competition to sign the highly promising England Under 20 number 8 and captain, Alex Gray, on a two-year-contract from Newcastle Falcons.
Gray is a product of the Newcastle Falcons Academy, the club he joined after he finished his studies at Barnard Castle School. He made 13 appearances for Newcastle, scoring a try on his Aviva Premiership Rugby debut against Harlequins at Kingston Park in March of last season.
Standing 6"5' and weighing 16 and a half stone, he captained England to Grand Slams at Under 16s, Under 18s and Under 20s level. Most recently he led England Under 20s to second place in the Junior World Championships where they lost narrowly in the final to New Zealand 33-22. Overall, he started nine of the 10 matches last season for England Under 20s, coming off the bench in the other game, scoring seven tries.
He is the second back row signing to join London Irish in a matter of weeks following Canadian international Jebb Sinclair's signature.
Commenting on his decision to join London Irish, Gray said: "I am very pleased to be joining London Irish. They play an exciting brand of rugby that I look forward to becoming a part of. Playing age grade rugby with Jonathan Joseph, Kieran Low and Guy Armitage they have always spoken very highly of the set up at Irish so with that in mind I'm very much looking forward to joining up with the rest of the squad ahead of the 2011/12 season. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Newcastle Falcons and wish the club all the best for the future."
London Irish head coach Toby Booth said: "Alex is a player that we have kept a close eye on for a couple of years now. He is an exceptional athlete and has an impressive array of skills for a back row forward. He is continuously striving to improve as a player and has leadership skills beyond his years. He will be a great asset to London Irish."
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.