If results are anything to go by, and really what other yardstick do we have to measure success, then the future of English rugby is looking as bright and rosy as the flower that adorns their shirts.
England U18 yesterday beat their South African counterparts 30-22, for the first time in four years, to complete an unbeaten season for the oldest of the schoolboy international sides. Allied to the England U20s back to back JWC winning campaigns, it is hard not to feel that it leaves English rugby in pretty rude health, as England U18 Head Coach John Fletcher said:
â€œIn terms of the programme â€“ from Under 15 through to Under 19 â€“ weâ€™ve finished the season unbeaten, and while itâ€™s not all about results, itâ€™s clearly a positive thing. And if you include the Under 20s in that too â€“ they lost one game in the Six Nations and won the Junior World Championship, so itâ€™s fair to say that English rugby is in a good place.â€
â€œThere is some real talent coming through and our job is to provide players who will ultimately deliver at the highest level. A real bulk of the work is done at the Regional Academies, the schools and the colleges and they deserve a lot of credit too.â€
Having already beaten Wales and France on tour, England were looking to round off in perfect style against South Africa. However having seen the Junior Boks rack up some big scores and impressive performances it was an almighty challenge.
Like their senior sides, the South Africans are a monumentally physical and bulky side but England were not to be intimidated and simply blasted their opponents away with an electrically fast start that saw Stoweâ€™s Rotimi Segun, Hartpury Collegeâ€™s Joe Batley, and Bryanstonâ€™s Max Clark all cross the whitewash, which with two Harry Mallinder conversions gave the away side a 19-8 half time lead.
South Africa began coming back into the game later in the second half but as the second half started England landed what felt like the killer blow, a fourth try through Sir Thomas Richâ€™s openside flanker Sam Underhill, who was later to take over the captaincy once the excellent Charlie Beckett came off.
That stretched the lead out to 24-8 and gave England a very comfortable cushion. However South Africa are not a feared side at this level for no reason and they soon battled their way back into contention with a converted try that brought the scores to within ten points.
A sin bin soon followed for England which put them under heavy pressure but Bryanstonâ€™s talented and versatile outside half, Rory Jennings, slotted a penalty to extended the cushion.
He was soon called into action again after a third South African score left England with a nervy and narrow 27-22 lead, however Jennings was unabashed by the pressure and stretched the lead out to eight points again, where it remained for the rest of the game.
Such a victory leaves the feeling that this is a genuinely impressive group of players and it seems far from unlikely that many of these players will see some club 1st XV action this season, with the LV= Cup likely to be a happy hunting ground for them all.
John Fletcher certainly agreed, he was over the moon after the game, saying: â€œWeâ€™re delighted to get the result, the players and management have been great all tour, but the performance was the most pleasing thing. I thought that we were on top for the majority of the game, South Africa came back fighting in the second half but our defence was excellent and we deserved the victory.â€
He was also full of praise for his teamâ€™s leaders:
â€œCharlie Beckett led the guys very well, and when he went off Sam Underhill took over and he was also excellent.â€
His most apt comment of all though was in praise of the group as a whole: â€œTheyâ€™re a talented group and deserve the success.â€
They are a talented group indeed, and it seems likely that it will not be very long at all before we see some of these players dominating the rugby pages of our newspapers. For now, the challenge for most is to break into their club sides and into the U20s set up, while for others another year on the schoolboy scene awaits.
Either way, it will be fascinating to follow their progress.
England U18 30-22 South Africa U18
England U18 XV:
15 Taylor Prell (Giggleswick School & Yorkshire Carnegie)
14 Kai Little (Hartpury College)
13 Max Clark (Bryanston School & Bath Rugby)
12 Harry Mallinder (Rugby School & Northampton Saints)
11 Rotimi Segun (Stowe School & Northampton Saints)
10 Rory Jennings (Bryanston School & Bath Rugby)
9 Will Homer (Sherborne School & Bath Rugby)
1 Lewis Boyce (Prince Henry’s & Yorkshire Carnegie)
2 Ollie Adams (St Pauls Catholic College & London Irish)
3 Ciaran Parker (St Ambrose & Sale Sharks)
4 Kieran Treadwell (John Fisher & Harlequins)
5 Joe Batley (Hartpury College & Gloucester Rugby)
6 Charlie Beckett (QEW & Leicester Tigers) (c)
7 Sam Underhill (Sir Thomas Richâ€™s School & Gloucester Rugby)
8 Lewis Ludlam (St Josephâ€™s College & Northampton Saints)
Replacements: 16 James Fish (Trent College & Northampton Saints) â€¨17 Owen Hills (QEW & Leicester Tigers) â€¨18 Seb Adeniran-Olule (Wellington College & Harlequins) â€¨19 Joe Maksymiw (QEW & Leicester Tigers) â€¨20 George Nott (Kings School Chester & Sale Sharks) â€¨21 Joe Marchant (Peter Symonds & Harlequins) â€¨22 Ollie Thorley (Cheltenham College & Gloucester Rugby) â€¨23 John Williams (St Pauls College & London Irish) â€¨24 Cameron Cowell (St Pauls College & London Irish) â€¨25 Theo Brophy Clews (Abingdon School & London Irish).
By Angus Savage