England have named their U20 side to kick off their U20 Six Nations campaign against Ireland at Irish Independent Park in Cork on Friday evening, 7.15pm kick off.
Head Coach Steve Bates has picked a side of incredible strength, indeed so deep is it with Gallagher Premiership and even England senior squad experience that it has the look of a side that could compete as a standalone Premiership side.
When players of the quality of Cameron Redpath and Ollie Lawrence, both of whom have been in Eddie Jones’ senior squads, are able to be left on the bench, the quality and depth of options available to Bates is clear.
With neither of those two featuring in the centres, Leicester Tigers’ Tom Hardwick is selected at inside centre, while Northampton Saints Fraser Dingwall starts at outside centre and the former Bedford School skipper is given the armband too. Both have great senior experience and Dingwall in particular has starred for his clubside this season.
Inside of them is another star player, Marcus Smith. The former Brighton College man might not be in Eddie Jones’ squads at the moment, but he will certainly be a shining light at U20 level, while his half back partner is Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Maunder, and the former Blundell’s captain has plenty of first team experience under his belt too.
Dingwall’s fellow Northampton starlet, Ollie Sleightholme, is selected on the right wing, while Harlequins’ Cadan Murley is on the left. Both have featured on many occasions for their senior side. Perhaps the least experienced man in the backlines is Josh Hodge at full back, the former Sedbergh star has not had a huge amount of senior game time, but is probably one of the most talented runners in the entire U20 side.
Up front Worcester Warriors’ Ted Hill in the back row is a name that everyone will know after he won his first England cap in the Autumn, he is on the blindside and has the vice captaincy, and he is joined at openside by Gloucester forager Aaron Hinckley, while Wasps Tom Willis, a star in the making, is at number 8.
The second row sees another player who has spent time in the senior set up, Saracens Joel Kpoku, who performed with such aplomb in last year’s World Rugby U20 Championships. He is joined by Northampton Saints’ Alex Coles, who has been gaining ever more game time.
The front row oozes potential, Exeter Chiefs’ Marcus Street is at tighthead in his third season of U20 rugby having first been selected as a schoolboy. Gloucester’s Ollie Adkins is at loosehead, while Sale Sharks Nic Dolly will bring plenty of energy to the hooker role.
On the bench the front row is covered by London Irish’s Ben Atkins, Sale Sharks loosehead Bevan Rodd, who is a player to really keep an eye on, and the experienced Joe Heyes of Leicester Tigers. Worcester Warriors’ James Scott is another with plenty of experience covering the second row, while Exeter Chiefs’ latest man on the back row production line, Rus Tuima, is set to make his debut.
As mentioned, Redpath and Lawrence cover the bulk of the backline, with Yorkshire Carnegie’s Ollie Fox backing up Maunder at scrum half.
Speaking to www.englandrugby.com ahead of the game, Bates said: “The message to the squad this week has been that this is a great opportunity for them to show how good they are at the start of another Six Nations campaign and they should play with confidence.”
“This is a very exciting, talented group of players and they should not forget to play like it. We have to go out there on Friday and really express ourselves on the pitch but we know we have to respect the opposition who will be positive about their chances in this competition as well.”
“This is a team full of experience, who are hugely talented and it’s shame we can only pick 15 as we’ve left out some very good players. The replacements will all be expected to make an impact on Friday, while the wider squad who will not be in Ireland will also be required at various points in the competition, and we need everyone to stay involved as they will play further down the line.”
England U20 XV v Ireland U20 – Friday, 7.15pm, Irish Independent Park
15 Josh Hodge (Newcastle Falcons), 14 Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints), 13 Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, captain), 12 Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), 11 Cadan Murley (Harlequins), 10 Marcus Smith (Harlequins), 9 Sam Maunder (Exeter Chiefs), 1 Olly Adkins (Gloucester), 2 Nic Dolly (Sale Sharks), 3 Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), 4 Joel Kpoku (Saracens), 5 Alex Coles (Northampton Saints), 6 Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), 7 Aaron Hinkley (Gloucester), 8 Tom Willis (Wasps).
Replacements: 16 Ben Atkins (London Irish), 17 Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks), 18 Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers), 19 James Scott (Worcester Warriors), 20 Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs), 21 Ollie Fox (Yorkshire Carnegie), 22 Cameron Redpath (Sale Sharks), 23 Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors).
England U20 Six Nations Fixtures:
Ireland – Friday 1st Feb, 7.15pm, Irish Independent Park, Cork
France Wales – Friday 22nd Feb, 7.05pm, ZipWorld Stadium, Colwyn Bay (live on S4C)
Italy – Friday 8th Mar, 7.45pm, Goldington Road, Bedford (live on Sky Sports)
Scotland – Friday 15th Mar, 7.45pm, Franklin’s Gardens (live on Sky Sports)
– Saturday 9th Feb, 12.05pm, Sandy Park, Exeter (live on Sky Sports)