Following the announcement of the 2017/18 England U20 Elite Player Squad on Wednesday evening, we pick out five players to keep an eye on during the campaign.
We leave out Sale Sharks and former Oundle flanker Ben Curry, who is obviously a player to watch. However having already featured in the senior England set up, hardly needs to be pointed out as a man to look out for. Perhaps it will not be long until the five on our list join him in progressing up the ranks.
5 England U20s to Watch
Ben Earl (Saracens, back row)
Ben Earl was actually named as captain of last year’s England World Rugby U20 Championship squad, however an untimely injury meant that Zach Mercer took it over, his subsequent heroics meant that many forgot that Earl had the armband originally. That Earl had the captaincy a year young says everything about this young man, who is also the Saracens Storm skipper in the A League and has a number of first team appearances to his name. He can play across the back row, and has a huge future ahead of him as a player and a leader. An abrasive ball carrier, a ferocious at the breakdown and in the tackle.
Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors, lock/back row)
Hill is so highly rated that he was, like Marcus Smith, fast-tracked into the U20 set up last year whilst still representing the England U18 side. He is equally at home in the second row and at number 8 and is a towering presence. His previous experience at this level should also make him a bit of a leader in this England U20 side, as should his Worcester Warriors experience in their A league side, the Cavaliers. Highly rated by England’s age-grade coaches, he could be a star of the future.
Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins, wing)
Listed here as a winger because that is where Ibitoye has played his senior rugby with Harlequins and where he shone for England U20 last year, earning a nomination for the World Rugby U20 Player of the Year and scoring one of the most spectacular tries of the World Championships. However the former Trinity School man is also at home in the centres and at full back, having played in both positions when the was the captain of the England U18 side. He is a lightning fast player with quick feet, and perhaps most importantly a fantastic rugby brain, and seems assured to be a player we will see on our screens for years to come.
Sam Moore (Sale Sharks, number 8)
Moore shared the England U18 captaincy last year while at Sedbergh School, and has already now signed a five year deal with Sale Sharks. So highly rated is the dynamic number 8 that England and Wales are already embroiled in a bit of a battle for his services (his father and uncle both played for Wales), and little wonder. Already he has a few Sale Sharks caps to his name, expect the back rower to be one of the major forces in this England U20 side.
Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs, tighthead prop)
Street, like Ted Hill, was another to step up from the England U18 side to play for the U20s a week later last year. In fact Street actually represented the U20 side nine days before he played for the England U18 side. As that shows, the Exeter Chiefs tighthead is seriously highly rated and has been cutting his propping teeth in the grizzly world of National 1 with Plymouth Albion, as well as representing the Exeter Braves in the A League. Street will cause some serious problems to every pack he comes up against, and not just with his physical prowess, he has all the ball skills of a modern prop, too.
Of course these five are far from the only players to look out for, all 34 players in the squad show extreme promise, and just getting into the side looks like a challenge, let alone standing head and shoulders above the others. Take hooker, where Henry Walker, Beck Cutting, and Gabriel Oghre all compete. Walker, a former Bromsgrove pupil, played for the side last year, but must keep out another former Bromsgrove pupil, a year his junior, in Beck Cutting, and former Millfield tryo, Oghre. The depth is astonishing, and is the great strength of England age-grade rugby that has seen them reach five World Rugby U20 Championship finals in a row, that and some truly outstanding coaching.