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England youngsters excite, as a great week of school rugby suggest a few stars of the future

With no schools rugby on this weekend, I had the pleasure of going to Twickenham to take in England v Italy in the RBS 6 Nations.

What a day it was too, not just for the scoreline and the quality of play, all of which was impressive, but because here was a chance to witness some of England’s most talked about youngsters really begin to shine at the highest level.

To see the likes of Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, and George Ford really strut their stuff and take control of the game was to see what we love about schools rugby hit the biggest stage of all.

Schools rugby, it often seems, is the last home of ‘off the cuff’ rugby, rugby for the sheer exhilaration of it. Yes, it is far more organised and structured than in the past, but there is still so much room for players just to have a go.

That is what watching these three is like. Ok, there is more maturity and calculation in their play than as schoolboys, but they still play with that same positivity and freedom that schoolboys are allowed.

They also show those still at school just how close they are to achieving their dream. These are young players not long out of school, players whose schoolboy exploits are well known. Jonathan Joseph was player of the tournament at the St Joseph’s Festival in his final year at school in 2008, George Ford is well known for having made his England U18 debut as a schoolboy just a fortnight after his 16th birthday, Anthony Watson was lifting the Junior World Championship less than a year after leaving St George’s College in Weybridge.

Now look at what they are doing, just a few years out of school and they are the names on everyone’s lips.

Joseph’s first try was a shining example of his fast feet and faster mind, faintly moving this way and that to create the space to put the afterburners on and score. His second was all about George Ford’s ability to cause give the defences nightmares. He could so easily have given the pass to Joseph early, so many do, that would have allowed them to drift and shut the move down. Instead he delayed, and delayed, and delayed, forcing the defence to commit and leaving a nice big hole for JJ.

These young and exciting players could be they key to a new, vibrant, and exciting England, these first two games of the Six Nations certainly suggest so.

NatWest Cup

The other great pleasure of the week has been to travel to Dulwich College and Oundle for their NatWest Cup games against Hampton and Lymm High School.

It would be tough to find two finer examples of why we love schools rugby. Dulwich College v Hampton was one of the most intense games of school rugby you will see, Hampton threw everything at Dulwich, kitchen sink and all but the reigning triple champions held on to secure a late drop goal for a one-point victory.

It was a true example, at any level, of the mentality of champions. No matter what the circumstances, true champions at any level always believe there will be a way. Think Manchester United in 1999, England in 2003, that New Zealand side that took a battering in the 2011 World Cup final, but still won.

Dulwich had that this week, and in many ways it was a perfectly comparable show of character.

Oundle v Lymm High School was a true example of the passion that exists in schoolboy rugby. Hundreds of supporters packed themselves around Oundle’s excellent 1st XV pitch, brought their own speaker system for pre game and half time, and constantly sang and chanted their way through the game. Oundle’s performance was raised and inspired by it, particularly in the first half, as they secured victory.

Even if they go on to lose to Bromsgrove in the semi final, that quarter final will be a game that they will remember for the rest of their lives. For that to happen at school level shows you just how special schoolboy rugby can be. It is played with your best mates, and a very high level, and inspires passion that many may never come across in sporting terms again.

For those whom it may come again for, Ford, Joseph, and Watson should provide ample motivation, for with hard work and dedication, that could be them.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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