A faulty laptop on holiday has caused an enforced absence of content from us over the last couple of weeks, and what a couple of weeks to have missed!
In the world of age-grade rugby, not to mention the senior game, there has been a huge amount of news, with the U18 International Series, U17 Internationals, the upcoming U16 international between England and Wales, and the build up to the World Rugby U20 Championships.
Perhaps most extraordinary of all though was Eddie Jones announcement of his England squad to tour Argentina.
Extraordinary because of the sheer number of uncapped players included in the squad, in particular four players drafted straight from the England U20 squad, Saracens second row Nick Isiekwe, London Irish wing Joe Cokanasiga, and Sale Sharks back row twins, Ben and Tom Curry.
They join Harlequins centre Joe Marchant, and Northampton Saints’ Harry Mallinder, both part of last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship winning squad, as well as recent U20 graduates like Charlie Ewels, Paul Hill, Ellis Genge, and Nathan Earle. There are also two young former England U18 captains in Sam Underhill and Jack Maunder, who is also eligible for this summer’s U20 World Championships.
Headlines elsewhere have looked at the likes of Denny Solomona and Piers Francis, but we want to take a look at those youngsters and what it says about Eddie Jones’ thinking and English rugby in general.
Those players drafted straight from the U20s, Isiekwe, Cokanasiga, Maunder and the two Curry’s, all have the potential to become highly capped England internationals, and indeed contenders for the Lions in 2021, and they are symbol of the strides that English rugby has made in age-grade rugby over the last five years or more.
Three U20 World Championships in four years is a brilliant return, and is a reward for the strides England have made in developing the pathway from schools and clubs to junior age-grade internationals, to U20s.
That pathway has been bearing fruit in recent years through the likes of Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, and Maro Itoje, to name just a few, but this accelerated promotion of these four, who are yet to even feature in an U20 World Championship, shows just how strong and successful the pathway is now becoming.
That Eddie Jones is prepared to sacrifice that World Rugby U20 Championship development opportunity for these players shows just how highly he rates them, too. Clearly he backs them to develop more from the experience of touring Argentina.
RFU Head of International Player Development, Dean Ryan, certainly believed it would be good for the players, and praised the depth of talent:
“Following the England U20 Grand Slam earlier this year, it is great to have five players earn places in the senior squad, the Six Nations showed that we have a large pool of young talent and that competition for places is high. We’re looking forward to seeing which players now take the opportunity to make their mark in the World Championship this summer as this group continues to develop.”
Will they get to start a Test? It is possible, but probably unlikely that they will start. For Isiekwe though a first cap looks very likely, Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels, another recent U20 graduate, will probably start, but Isiekwe is the only other second row in the squad.
Cokanasiga’s chances of caps are pretty decent, too. Jonny May is the senior wingers on tour, with Cokanasiga competing with Denny Solomona, and former World Rugby U20 Championship winner Nathan Earle, for the second wing spot, with could go to any of the tree.
Jack Maunder is also eligible for the U20 World Championships but has been selected for this tour, and his chances of caps look almost certain, he is one of just two scrum halves on tour, so will almost certainly come on for Danny Care in the Tests.
The Curry twins face a tougher task, with Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes, Tom Wood, and James Haskell all offering experience in the back row, while Sam Underhill, the highly rated former England U18 skipper, is the third youngster vying for a back row spot.
What is clear, whether caps follow this summer for the Curry’s or Underhill, is that Eddie Jones rates them. Will Evans, the Leicester Tigers openside and an Eddie Jones favourite, returns to the U20 set up for the World Championships, despite having earlier in the season been a part of the senior EPS.
That the Curry’s and Underhill have leapfrogged him is a sign of just how highly he rates the three young flankers, though of course injury troubles and the turmoil at Leicester have added up to a tough season for him.
Perhaps the only surpise in such a young and exciting, and indeed bold, squad, was that Bath’s Zach Mercer is not involved, despite so many backing him to link up with the squad after some stunning performances for Bath and England U20 this season, he will be with England U20 at the World Championships though.
That squad has also been named, with 28 players selected for the Championships, with run from 31st May to 18th June in Georgia.
Mercer and Evans are two of six players that were in last year’s Championship winning side, with Harlequins’ Sam Aspland-Robinson, London Irish’s Theo Brophy-Clews, Gloucester’s Harry Randall, and Yorkshire Carnegie’s Max Wright the others with World Championship winning experience.
Saracens’ Ali Crossdale is one of just two players, along with Evans, who was playing for Leicester, who missed out on England’s U20 Six Nations Grand Slam earlier in the year.
If the current crop can prove successful without their 5 superstars, next year’s England tour could see even more U20 graduates selected. The pathway is well and truly excelling.
England Senior Squad v Argentina
Will Collier (Harlequins, uncapped), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 4 caps), Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, uncapped), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby, 3 caps), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 1 cap), Dylan Hartley – captain (Northampton Saints, 84 caps), James Haskell (Wasps, 75 caps), Paul Hill (Northampton Saints, 5 caps), Nathan Hughes (Wasps, 8 caps), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, uncapped), Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 42 caps), Matt Mullan (Wasps, 15 caps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, 55 caps), Sam Underhill (Ospreys/Bath Rugby, uncapped), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints, 50 caps).
Mike Brown – vice-captain (Harlequins, 60 caps), Danny Care – vice captain (Harlequins, 71 caps), Joe Cokanasiga (London Irish, uncapped), Nathan Earle (Saracens, uncapped), George Ford – vice captain (Bath Rugby, 35 caps), Piers Francis (Auckland Blues/Northampton Saints, uncapped), Sam James (Sale Sharks, uncapped), Alex Lozowski (Saracens, uncapped), Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints, uncapped), Joe Marchant (Harlequins, uncapped), Jack Maunder (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 25 caps), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 4 caps), Denny Solomona (Sale Sharks, uncapped).
Unavailable for selection due to injury: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Sam Jones (Wasps)
England U20 World Rugby U20 Championship Squad:
Ralph Adams-Hale (Saracens), Josh Bayliss (Bath Rugby), Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons), Josh Caulfield (Exeter Chiefs), Justin Clegg (Worcester Warriors), Max Davies (Newcastle Falcons), Ollie Dawe (Bristol Rugby), Ben Earl (Saracens), Will Evans (Leicester Tigers), Ciaran Knight (Gloucester Rugby), Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby), Joe Mullis (Gloucester Rugby), Jack Nay (Saracens), Alex Seville (Gloucester Rugby), Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Walker (Gloucester Rugby)
Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins), Theo Brophy Clews (London Irish), Will Butler (Worcester Warriors), Ali Crossdale (Saracens), Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins), Max Malins (Saracens), Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints), Dominic Morris (Saracens), Tom Parton (London Irish), Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby), Jacob Umaga (Wasps), Max Wright (Yorkshire Carnegie)
England U20 World Championship Fixtures: (Live on ITV)
England v Samoa: Wednesday 31 May – Avchala Stadium (10am KO BST)
England v Wales: Sunday 4 June – Avchala Stadium (5pm KO BST)
England v Australia: Thursday 8 June – Avchala Stadium (5pm KO BST)
Semi-finals and knock-out matches (Tuesday 13 June)
Final and knock-out matches (Sunday 18 June)
|2017 World Rugby U20 Championships Pools|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|