With the international window upon us, the 2017/18 Anglo-Welsh Cup kicks off this weekend.
Over the years the Cup has become more and more of a place for clubs to try out youngsters in this environment, with Sam Simmonds being a notable example last year, while Zach Mercer skippered Bath. Maro Itoje skippered Saracens to success in 2014 as he began the process of becoming one of the top locks in world rugby.
This year is no different, a number of young players have been given the opportunity to hone their leadership skills like Mercer and Itoje before them. Ben Earl, the former Tonbridge skipper, takes on the role for Saracens. The 19 year old captains the side from number 8.
His England U20 colleague last year, inside centre Will Butler, captains Worcester Warriors at the same age, while young second row Charlie Beckett is given the honour for Gloucester, and James Chisholm, the former World Rugby U20 Player of the Year, skippers Harlequins as part of a youthful back row that also includes recent U20 graduates Dino Lamb-Cona and Archie White.
It is the presence of a number of schoolboys across the lineups that is maybe most exciting though. Most notably from Sale Sharks, who include 3 schoolboys in their side.
The headline act is surely Cameron Redpath, who starts at inside centre for them, partnering skipper Will Addison. Redpath, son of Scotland legend Bryan, is still at Sedbergh School, and represented Scotland at U16 level before playing for England U18, a year young, last year. The playmaker is equally comfortable at fly half and full back too.
On the bench for Sale are a pair of Kirkham Grammar School stars, fly half Kieran Wilkinson and outside centre Connor Doherty. Should they come on they will link up with one of the players that starred for Kirkham alongside them last year, Arron Reed, while Redpath’s skipper at Sedbergh last year, Sam Moore, starts at number 8.
If any of those schoolboys need any more inspiration on Friday night, they need only turn to their openside flanker, Ben Curry. Last year he and twin brother Tom where playing for Sale FC at this time, having just finished at Oundle School. Now both have been named in England squads, and Tom has been capped.
Gloucester are another side to include schoolboys, both of there are on the bench but seem likely to get on the field in the second half. Tighthead Jack Bartlett will hope to follow in the footsteps of Ciaran Knight, who also appeared as a schoolboy at tighthead and represented England U20 last year. Joining Bartlett on the bench is St Peter’s Gloucester full back Reece Dunn, a player who despite being a schoolboy has been seeing plenty of game time in the A League for Gloucester United too.
They are far from Gloucester’s only young guns though, with the likes of former Bromsgrove skipper Henry Walker also on the bench and Carwyn Penny, Elliott Creed, Lloyd Evans, and last year’s England U18 star Tom Seabrook all in the starting fifteen.
Worcester Warriors include a schoolboy of their own, too. Bromsgrove’s Ollie Lawrence is on the bench. The centre has been in stunning form for his school this term, and will have a familiar face with him against Sale, with last year’s Bromsgrove hooker, Beck Cutting, starting up front.
Elsewhere Scotland U20 international Tom Dodd gets his first start at number 8, with England U20 no8 Ted Hill on the bench, Hill also played England U18 last year and his fellow England U18 international Nick Rigby is also on the bench.
Among the other squads Exeter Chiefs also include a dual U18/U20 international last year, Marcus Street, who will come on at tighthead. They also include the likes of Sam Moreley, Joe Simmonds, Jack Maunder, Billy Keast, and former Dulwich star, Tom O’Flaherty.
Northampon Saints have an exciting young centre partnership of Tom Stephenson and Rory Hutchinson, while on the bench they include Tom Emery, James Grayson, Alex Mitchell, Jordan Onojaife, and James Fish among others.
Leicester Tigers blend youth and experience, with young stars Will Evans, Harry Simmons, and George Worth among those starting, while last year’s schools stars Tom Hardwick and Tommy Reffell are among a number of youngsters on the bench.
London Irish have actually gone fairly experienced, though Joe Cokanasiga and Theo Brophy-Clews both start and Max Northcote Green starts against his former Academy, Bath, so too Tom Woolstencroft when he comes on.
Bath have picked former Millfield stars Darren Atkins and Josh Bayliss, with Sam Nixon on the bench, while former Denstone College star Levi Davis starts on the wing. Max Green, the former England U20 scrum half, is on the bench just days after moving from Yorkshire Carnegie.
Saracens, as always, have gone young. Earl skippers them with fellow U20 internationals from last year Jack Nay, Max Malins, and Ali Crossdale, who makes his debut, all in the starting fifteen as well. Tom Whiteley is at scrum half with Nick Tompkins in the centres and Nathan Earle at full back, Matt Gallagher is at outside centre.
The bench is a hive of youth, with Sean Reffell, Alex Gilksten, and Reuben Bird-Tulloch, all recently out of school, with Walker, Segun, and Thompson-Stringer not light-years before them.
Quins have that young back row mentioned earlier, and also start Lewis Boyce at loosehead. Boyce once made up the Yorkshire Carnegie Academy, Prince Henry’s Grammar School, England U18, and U20 front rows alongside hooker Jack Walker, now at Bath, and Paul Hill, not at Saints. Charlie Piper and Henry Cheeseman are both on the bench along with exciting debutants John Okafor and Gabriel Ibitoye, both real stars of the future.
Wasps have opted for plenty of experience but opt for both Willis brothers, Tom and elder brother Jack, in the back row alongside James Haskell. They are two of four Henley College graduates in the squad, along with Aaron O’Sullivan on the right wing and Scotland U20 international Connor Eastgate on the bench, former Millfield star Gabriel Oghre is at hooker.
Eastgate is alongside fellow youngsters Will Stuart, Jacob Umaga, and Merchant Taylors’ leavers Will Porter and James Seabrook, while Sullivan starts in the back 3 alongside fellow academy prospect Owain James, once of Harrow.
Newcastle Falcons are their opponents, and they include RGS Newcastle leaver Charlie Wilson at outside centre. Also in the side are former England U20 skipper Callum Chick at number 8, ex Scotland U20 second row Andrew Davidson, alongside a former England U20 workhorse Will Witty, and young Craig Willis at 10. Simon Uzokwe, Ruaridh Dawson, and Zach Kibirige are among the youthful members waiting on the replacements bench.
Overall it promises to be a brilliant weekend of rugby, with so many young school stars of both the past and present being given the chance to shine in the clubs’ colours. It truly is a chance to catch the stars of the future in action.
Anglo-Welsh Cup Fixtures:
Worcester Warriors v Sale Sharks
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints
Leicester Tigers v Gloucester
London Irish v Bath
Saracens v Harlequins
Wasps v Newcastle Falcons
15 Bryce Heem, 14 Tom Howe, 13 Max Stelling, 12 Will Butler (c), 11 Dean Hammond, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Michael Dowsett, 1 Gareth Milasinovich, 2 Beck Cutting, 3 Nick Schonert, 4 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 5 Darren Barry, 6 Huw Taylor, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 8 Tom Dodd.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Jeavons-Fellows, 17 Nick Rigby, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Ted Hill, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Ollie Lawrence.
15 Luke James, 14 Arron Reed, 13 Will Addison (c), 12 Cameron Redpath , 11 Josh Charnley, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Will Cliff, 1 James Flynn, 2 Cameron Neild, 3 Will Griff John, 4 George Nott, 5 Matt Postlethwaite, 6 TJ Ioane, 7 Ben Curry, 8 Sam Moore.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Jake Pope, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 David Seymour, 20 Nic Dolly, 21 Matt Sturgess, 22 Kieran Wilkinson, 23 Connor Doherty.
15 Sal M’Boge, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Tom Hendrickson, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Will Chudley, 1 Alec Hepburn, 2 Elvis Taione, 3 Moray Low, 4 Ollie Atkins, 5 Sam Skinner, 6 James Freeman, 7 Matt Kvesic, 8 Kai Horstmann (c).
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Toby Salmon, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Sam Morley, 23 Sam Hill.
15 George Furbank, 14 Juan Pablo Estelles, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Ken Pisi, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Cobus Reinach, 1 Francois van Wyk, 2 Reece Marshall, 3 Paul Hill, 4 James Craig, 5 Christian Day, 6 Tom Wood, 7 Ben Nutley, 8 Sam Dickinson (c).
Replacements: 16 James Fish, 17 Matt Beesley, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Jordan Onojaife, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 James Grayson, 23 Tom Emery.
15 Atieli Pakalani, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 George Worth, 12 Charlie Thacker, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Joe Ford (c), 9 Harry Simmons, 1 Kyle Traynor, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Pat Cilliers, 4 Harry Wells, 5 Dan Tuohy, 6 Sam Lewis, 7 Will Evans, 8 Fred Tuilagi.
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Ben Betts, 18 Chris Baumann, 19 Joe Maksymiw, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Ben White, 22 Tom Hardwick, 23 Jordan Olowofela.
15 Carwyn Penny, 14 Tom Seabrook, 13 Andy Symons, 12 Tom Hudson, 11 Elliott Creed, 10 Lloyd Evans, 9 Ben Vellacott, 1 Paddy McAllister, 2 James Hanson, 3 Gareth Denman, 4 Charlie Beckett (c), 5 Freddie Clarke, 6 Ross Moriarty, 7 Jake Polledri, 8 Gareth Evans.
Replacements: 16 Henry Walker 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Jack Bartlett, 19 Callum Allen, 20 Will Safe, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Charlie Chapman, 23 Reece Dunn.
15 James Marshall, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Theo Brophy Clews, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 1 Harry Elrington, 2 David Paice (c), 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 6 Max Northcote-Green, 7 Blair Cowan, 8 Jake Schatz.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Tom Smallbone, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Will Lloyd, 20 Ofisa Treviranus, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 23 Ben Ransom.
15 Darren Atkins, 14 Levi Davis, 13 James Wilson, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Darren Allinson, 1 Nick Auterac, 2 Michael van Vuuren, 3 Max Lahiff, 4 Levi Douglas, 5 James Phillips, 6 Matt Garvey (c), 7 Josh Bayliss, 8 Paul Grant.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Will Vaughan, 18 Sam Nixon, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Oscar Backhouse, 21 Max Green, 22 Matt Banahan, 23 Max Clark.
15 Nathan Earle, 14 Alistair Crossdale, 13 Matt Gallagher, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Mike Ellery, 10 Max Malins, 9 Tom Whiteley, 1 Richard Barrington, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 4 Will Skelton, 5 Danny Cutmore, 6 Jack Nay, 7 Joel Conlon, 8 Ben Earl (c).
Replacements: 16 Tadgh McElroy, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Billy Walker, 19 Scott Spurling, 20 Sean Reffell, 21 Alex Gilksten, 22 Rueben Bird-Tulloch, 23 Rotimi Segun.
15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Harry Sloan, 12 James Lang, 11 Alofa Alofa, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charlie Mulchrone (vc), 1 Lewis Boyce, 2 Elia Elia, 3 Phil Swainston, 4 Ben Glynn, 5 Charlie Matthews, 6 James Chisholm (c), 7 Archie White, 8 Dino Lamb.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Piper, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Josh McNulty, 19 George Merrick, 20 John Okafor, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Henry Cheeseman, 23 Gabriel Ibitoye.
15 Owain James, 14 Aaron O’Sullivan, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Guy Armitage, 10 Rob Miller, 9 Craig Hampson, 1 Ben Harris, 2 Gabriel Oghre, 3 Marty Moore, 4 Marcus Garratt, 5 James Gaskell (c), 6 Jack Willis, 7 James Haskell, 8 Tom Willis.
Replacements: 16 Antonio (TJ) Harris, 17 Paul Doran-Jones, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Guy Borrowdale, 20 James Seabrook, 21 Will Porter, 22 Connor Eastgate, 23 Jacob Umaga.
15 Cameron Cowell, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Charlie Wilson, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Belisario Agulla, 10 Craig Willis, 9 Michael Young, 1 Sami Mavinga, 2 Santiago Socino, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Will Witty, 5 Andrew Davidson, 6 Ryan Burrows (c), 7 Gary Graham, 8 Callum Chick.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Trevor Davison, 18 David Wilson, 19 Simon Uzokwe, 20 Glen Young ,21 Ruaridh Dawson, 22 Zach Kibirige, 23 Joel Hodgson.