This week we return to our series looking back at England U20 XVs from IRB Junior World Championships/World Rugby U20 Championships of the past.
Previously we have looked at the side from 2008, the inaugural tournament, 2009, and 2010. This week we that a look at the England U20 side that reached the 2011 final against New Zealand.
As you will see from the two teamsheets, this is one of the most famous U20 finals that there has been, with both sides packed full of players that have gone on not just to be capped but to be world class players, including a number of players on both sides that played a major role in this summer’s British and Irish Lions series.
New Zealand won the 2011 title, hosted in Italy, beating England 33-22 in the final. It was their fourth success in a row and they were the only side at the time to have won it. It was the third time that England had been their opponents, Australia in 2010 were the only other side in that period to reach a final, but it was by far and away the stiffest test that the Junior All Blacks had ever faced in the IRB Junior World Championship final.
This article looks at the England side that day, but we cannot possibly do so without a glance at the New Zealand side first.
It contained two future World Players of the Year, Brodie Retallick in the second row, and Beauden Barrett at full back. Why was Barrett at full back? Because this side also included future Wales international Gareth Anscombe at fly half and Barrett’s modern day understudy for the All Blacks’ 10 shirt, Lima Sopoaga, at inside centre.
Partnering Retallick in the second row was another future All Black, Steven Luatua, who plays for the Barbarians this Saturday alongside Luke Whitelock, who captained this side from number 8.
His fellow back rows were also both to become All Blacks, Brad Shields on the blindside, and Sam Cane, Richie McCaw’s successor and a star in the Lions series, on the openside. Another to face the Lions this summer, Codie Taylor, was at hooker.
Joining Barrett, Anscombe, and Sopoaga in the backs was TJ Perenara, another All Black, at scrum half, and Harlequins Francis Saili at outside centre. On the left wing was another future star and a soon to be £1million player, Charles Piutau.
Perhaps the least well known man in the backline was Mitchell Scott on the right wing, who was keeping out another world famous future All Black, Waisake Naholo.
It truly was one of the great U20 sides of all time, particularly when judged based on how many went to make an impact on the senior international scene. Here is that 2011 Junior All Blacks side in full:
New Zealand U20 2011:
15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mitchell Scott, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Lima Sopoaga, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 TJ Perenara, 1 Solomona Sakalia, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 4 Steven Luatua, 5 Brodie Retallick, 6 Brad Shields, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Luke Whitelock (c).
Replaceents: 16 Sefo Setefano, 17 Michael Kainga, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Carl Axtens, 20 Brad Weber, 21 Rhys Llewellyn, 22 Waisake Naholo.
As you will see from the England side, they produced almost as many top players as the New Zealand side, and the framework of this 2011 U20 side could well end up being the framework that Eddie Jones takes to Japan in 2019, just look at that 10, 12, 13 axis.
England U20 XV – 2011 IRB Junior World Championship Final
15 Ben Ransom (London Irish)
Ransom has been unlucky through his career to have been stuck behind a top class operator in Alex Goode, the 2009 England U20 fly half, at Saracens. In a bid for more 1st XV action, he moved to London Irish last year.
14 Andy Short (Retired)
Short retired back in April due to injury, having represented both Worcester Warriors and Bristol across both the Premiership and Championship. Never quite hit the heights for the rest of this stellar backline, but had a solid pro career.
13 Elliot Daly (British & Irish Lions, England, & Wasps)
After waiting a long time for the international recognition that he had deserved for a long time, last year Elliot Daly really broke through, nailing down a starting spot on the wing for both England and the British & Irish Lions.
12 Owen Farrell (British & Irish Lions, England, & Saracens)
Farrell has made his name as a fly half, but the last few years have been spent, internationally, at inside centre in tandem with George Ford at fly half. A partnership that was forged in age-grade rugby and shone in the U20 World Championship. Farrell starred for the Lions in the summer in both roles and is truly now a World Class operator.
11 Christian Wade (British & Irish Lions, England, & Wasps)
Wade was in his second tournament having been a part of the 2010 crop too. Since then he has developed a reputation as one of the most elusive and dangerous runners in the Premiership. Four years ago he earned an England cap and managed an injury call up to the successful British and Irish Lions squad, but has never quite managed to force his way into international coaches plans.
10 George Ford (England & Leicester Tigers)
The star of this 2011 side. Ford was later named IRB Junior World Player of the Year, the first non-New Zealander to claim the award. Even more impressively, he played in this tournament as an U18. His partnership with Farrell has now become cemented at senior international level, and while some question aspects of game, he is undoubtedly one of the finest fly-halves around, he is a terrific ball player, playing flat to the line with one of the best passing games there is.
9 Chris Cook (Bath)
Cook’s major breakthrough has not been as fast as some of the others in the backline but he has been a solid member of the Bath 1st XV for a few years now. This year he has started to have more and more of an influence on Bath and their performances, and is getting a near even share of games with Kahn Fotuali’i.
1 Mako Vunipola (British & Irish Lions, England, & Saracens)
Mako’s second U20 tournament, he played on the tighthead in 2010 but switched to loosehead for this one, where he was stayed for the rest of his career. What a career, too a Test starter in all three Lions tests in New Zealand and involved in all three in Australia, he is one of the most skillful forwards on the planets. Having shed a few pounds since his U20 days too, he has become even more of a threat than he was back then.
2 Mikey Haywood (Northampton Saints)
Haywood has been a Saints stalwart ever since this tournament. Throughout his time there he has largely had to settle for a seat on the bench as Dylan Hartley has been the starting hooker throughout. Perhaps the biggest compliment that Haywood can be paid though is that despite Hartley being the England skipper, Haywood’s performances have put real pressure on Hartley’s starting position even at club level.
3 Henry Thomas (Bath)
Alongside Vunipola, Thomas formed what must have been one of the most formidable propping partnerships in schoolboy rugby history at Millfield, and they carried that on at U20 level once Thomas, a year younger, had graduated. Since then Thomas has gained 7 England caps, though has unfortunately been out of action of late with a long term injury.
4 Joe Launchbury (England & Wasps)
Launchbury, despite still being young, is now something of an England veteran. He is Wasps captain and was considered one of the most unfortunate players in Britain or Ireland not to be a part of this summer’s Lions squad. In one of the most competitive positions in the England squad, he continues to excel seemingly whenever called upon.
5 Charlie Matthews (Harlequins)
This was Matthews’ second IRB Junior World Championship, having been a part of the 2010 squad too. By 2011 he was a starter, and since then he has gone on to become a club regular at Quins with over a hundred appearances to his name. Unfortunate to be in one of the most competitive positions in England.
6 Sam Jones (Wasps)
Jones has been so unlucky with injury. Last year he was called up by Eddie Jones to the England squad, only to break his leg. He has no played for club or country since. His promise is such that he was selected for the Barbarians, alongside Elliot Daly, to face the Lions in Hong Kong back in 2013 and was seen as a future England star. He still could be, but injury has struck at a cruel time.
7 Matt Kvesic (England & Exeter Chiefs)
Kvesic’s has been a career of so much promise, spells of outstanding performance, but perhaps never quite the backing of senior international coaches. A veteran of England squads, Kvesic has three England caps to his name. He appeared for England at every level, U16, U18, U20, Saxons, and the Senior side. For a long time he was one of few ‘fetchers’ in the country, and moved to Exeter Chiefs this summer from where he will be hoping to relaunch his shot at more England caps.
8 Alex Gray, captain (Atlanta Falcons, NFL)
Of all of this England squad, Gray’s career has surely been the most unusual. 2011 was his second tournament and he captained this exciting England group. On his return, he moved from Newcastle Falcons to London Irish before a couple of years later joining the England 7s set up, and becoming a star of the global 7s circuit. Injury denied him the chance to compete at the Olympics, and following that a desire for a change of scene after such disappointment has seen him join the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL, a truly remarkable achievement.
16 Rob Buchanan (Harlequins)
17 Will Collier (England & Harlequins)
18 Sam Twomey (Harlequins)
19 Matt Everard (Nottingham)
20 Dan Robson (England Saxons & Wasps)
21 Ryan Mills (Worcester Warriors)
22 Marland Yarde (England & Sale Sharks)
Two future England Senior caps sat on the bench in that final, Harlequins prop Will Collier, who faced Argentina in June, and Marland Yarde, who has been in the news this week following his exit from Harlequins and signing for Sale Sharks.
A number of other players on the bench that day have come close to honours, notably scrum half Dan Robson whose from at Wasps has seen plenty of calls for him to be capped, though so far only Saxons caps have arrived. Luke Robson, Rob Buchanan and Ryan Mills have also been part of England squads, Buchanan suffering an untimely injury that prevented him from being capped just as he was in the frame. Sam Twomey has carved out a strong career at Harlequins in the second row behind Buchanan and Collier and alongside Matthews, who started in this final. Matt Everard moved from Tigers to Wasps shortly after the tournament and is now at Championship side Nottingham.
As you can see, this truly was an exceptional group of players from either side in this final, no wonder it is remembered as one of the great U20 finals there was been in the tournament’s ten year history.
Next time we will be taking a look at the England crop of 2012, the first IRB Junior World Championship not to be claimed by New Zealand.
Until then, do check out our trips down memory lane to the teams of 2008, 2009, and 2010.