England have named their side for their opening game of the 2020 U20 Six Nations Championship against France, kicking off at 8pm in the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble on Saturday night.
New Head Coach Alan Dickens has named nine debutants in his side, a side that also has plenty of players with top level experience in the team. Not least in the form of the half backs, both of whom have appeared for the U20s before. Exeter Chiefs scrum half, and former Blundell’s star, Sam Maunder will captain the side and has plenty of senior club experience, as does his fly half partner, Manu Vunipola, who has been in superb form for Saracens and the former Harrow man even, very briefly, captained them last week, at least in the eyes of referee Luke Pearce.
Four others in the starting fifteen have previous experience at U20 level, including full back Josh Hodge of Newcastle Falcons. The former Sedbergh star was named an apprentice in Eddie Jones’ senior England squad for the Guinness Six Nations. Exeter Chiefs pari Richard Capstick and Rus Tuima start at seven and eight respectively, the former Exeter College players both featured for the U20s last year, as did Sale Sharks’ Connor Doherty. The former Kirkham Grammar School man is at outside centre on Saturday.
Alongside Capstick and Tuima in the back row is former Hartpury College star JJ Tonks, now at Northampton Saints, while in the second row are two debutants, George Hammond of Harlequins and Ben Donnell of London Irish. Ahead of them in the front row are London Irish’s Luke Green at tighthead, Saracens’ Theo Dan at hooker, and Leicester Tigers’ James Whitcombe at loosehead. The giant former Woodhouse Grove man is a real player to keep an eye on.
Joining the largely experienced backline is Bath wing Gabriel Hamer-Webb, who will be making his first ever appearance in any England age-grade shirt. He will have familiar company inside him though as partnering Doherty in the centres is KES Bath old boy Max Ojomoh, a teammate of Hamer-Webb’s at Bath. Completing the backline on the left wing is another of the tremendously exciting backline in the Sale Sharks academy, Tom Roebuck, the former Wirral Grammar star.
Such is the depth of talent available to England at age-grade level that they have a bench that would be the envy of a number of side’s starting options, not least in the backline where Tigers duo Jack Van Poortvliet and Freddie Steward are two stars in the making, as is Gloucester fly half George Barton. The cover in the forwards is pretty mouth-watering, too. Harlequins’ Hugh Tizard and Gloucester’s Jack Clement cover the second and back rows, while covering the front row will be London Irish’s Ben Atkins at hooker, Saracens Harvey Beaton at tighthead, and Northampton Saints loosehead Emmanuel Iyogun, who will be making his first ever appearance in an England shift.
Speaking to www.englandrugby.com after selecting his side, Alan Dickens said:
“There is a huge challenge ahead for us on Saturday against a France side who are back-to-back World Rugby U20 Champions and they will be under pressure to perform in front of their home supporters, I’ve coached teams to play in France before and this will be a great experience for the players. It is usually a hostile atmosphere, they are hugely patriotic when it comes to rugby, and we are expecting no different in Grenoble.”
“We need to have the ability to adapt, games of rugby are won by the team that can tactically adapt during the 80 minutes and that has been a big focus for us.
“Ultimately though you always have to go back to why we play rugby and that is for enjoyment and I want the players to remember that on Saturday night. If we enjoy it, get our processes right we will get the result.”
“The attitude, skill level and commitment of the players in the time we’ve had together has been fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing them put all that hard work into an 80 minute performance on Saturday.”
England U20 XV v France – Saturday, 8pm, Stade des Alpes, Grenoble
15 Josh Hodge (Newcastle Falcons), 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb (Bath), 13 Connor Doherty (Sale Sharks), 12 Max Ojomoh (Bath), 11 Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks), 10 Manu Vunipola (Saracens), 9 Sam Maunder (Exeter Chiefs, captain), 1 James Whitcombe (Leicester Tigers), 2 Theo Dan (Saracens), 3 Luke Green (London Irish), 4 George Hammond (Harlequins), 5 Ben Donnell (London Irish), 6 JJ Tonks (Northampton Saints), 7 Richard Capstick (Exeter Chiefs), 8 Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs).
Replacements: 16 Ben Atkins (London Irish), 17 Emmanuel Iyogun (Northampton Saints), 18 Harvey Beaton (Saracens), 19 Hugh Tizard (Harlequins), 20 Jack Clement (Gloucester), 21 Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers), 22 George Barton (Gloucester), 23 Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers).