The 26-man England squad to head to the U18 International Series in South Africa was named earlier this week. All 26 have already shown great promise, but here we pick out five whose schoolboy performances have us particularly looking forward to their future potential.
Of course the other 21 players are outstanding too, and we could have picked any number for this ‘five to watch’, but these five have been particularly exciting over the past few years to us on the schools rugby touchlines.
A few of these five will be competing directly with one another for their preferred spot in the team too, which should only add to the excitement and quality on show.
Charlie Atkinson (Abingdon & Wasps, fly half)
Atkinson has been turning heads for a while, the Abingdon fly half has been playing consistently for the Wasps U18 side since he was an U16 and has never looked anything less than comfortable at that level. Competition at fly half in this England squad is fierce, the likes of Orlando Bailey and Ethan Grayson are potent forces, but Atkinson will get his chance and those that witness it will be seeing a very special talent indeed.
Orlando Bailey (Beechen Cliff & Bath, fly half/inside centre/fullback)
Bailey, like Atkinson, has been turning heads for both school and club for some time. Primarily a fly half, he has also turned out at both inside centre and fullback, including for the England U18 side in the past season, but fly half is his natural spot. He first came to the attention of Fifteen Rugby back as an U15 when he dominated the Schools Vase tournament for his old school Thomas Hardye. Since then he has gone up and up with a superb blend of crisp passing and a mazy running game that saw coaches see full back as a position with which to find him some game time at such a young age. A true star of the future.
Fin Baxter (Wellington College & Harlequins, prop)
Back in 2017 Baxter captained Wellington College to U15 Schools Cup glory, where his opposite captain was Warwick’s Jack Forsyth, another exciting member of this England squad. The next season he was starting for the Wellington College 1st XV, an impressive achievement for any U16 but even more so as a prop. Since then he has gone up and up, his range of skills and workrate are utterly sublime and he was a key figure in Wellington’s run to the Champions Trophy last season. With England U18 experience already under his belt, he could be a real star in South Africa where the physical challenge he faces will be immense.
Louis Hillman-Cooper (Cheltenham College & Gloucester, outside centre/wing)
Hillman-Cooper is a superb all-round athlete adept from the athletics circuit to the rugby field with plenty of other spots along the way. His pace has seen him utilised on the wing by both club and country before, but it is at outside centre where Hillman-Cooper is most at home, able to balance the outside break with his good rounding of skills. He has been a star man for his school side, Cheltenham College, for many years, even scoring some sensational tries as a mere Prep School pupil. Definitely a man to keep an eye on in South Africa on the hard grounds.
Will Joseph (Millfield & London Irish, outside centre)
If the surname rings any bells, it should, Will is the younger brother of England and Bath centre Jonathan. See Will Joseph moving on a rugby field and the similarity is stark, pace, footwork, and a strong enough understanding of the game that Millfield felt comfortable playing him at fly half for much of last season. Like fellow outside centre Hillman-Cooper, Joseph is a multi-talented athlete with serious pace to burn and will certainly be one of the key figures to watch in South Africa this summer and in the season to come.
All five should prove exciting not just in South Africa this summer but over the season to come for school, club, and country, and will most certainly be in contention for contracts come the end of the 2019/20 season.