5 things we learned from the England U20 World Championship opener

England kicked off the defence of their World Rugby U20 Championship crown with a bang yesterday, beating Japan 59-7 in their opening game.

What did we learn from that game though? Here are five things, among others, that we learned form England U20’s opener.

James Chisholm is the real deal

Hardly a surprise, Chisholm was England U18 captain, a key player in last year’s U20 triumph, a key member of this year’s U20 Six Nations winning side, and has already made ten first XV appearances for Harlequins.

However the former Brighton College pupil is certainly not resting on those laurels and put in a superb performance against Japan. He showed brutal physicality and deft footwork as well with each carry, beating the first defender a number of times. He also showed excellent awareness and handling to put away Yorkshire Carnegie’s Jack Walker for his try.

Ellis Genge is every bit the modern prop

Bristol’s Genge used to be a number eight but has moved to loosehead with barley a glitch, as his strength at the set piece through the Six Nations and again yesterday showed.

What sets Genge apart though is his ability to take those skills he learned in the back row and to keep making use of them whilst in the front row. That was never more typified than during a rare Japanese attacking spell in the first half in which Genge seized on a turnover opportunity, snaffling the ball and allowing Rory Jennings (a hat tip to him for an assured performance and 7 kicks from 9 by the way) to move England back into an attacking position.

Andy Robinson has labelled him the new Andrew Sheridan, perhaps the new Gethin Jenkins might be a more appropriate label though.

Steve Borthwick is set to become a top coach

Since retiring from rugby last season, Borthwick has been working as Japan’s forwards coach and has been helping their U20 side prepare for this World Rugby U20 Championship.

That help is really showing as one of the real positives of Japan’s performance yesterday was their solidity and imagination at the set piece against what was a considerably bigger and stronger England pack. Borthwick takes a huge amount of credit for that, and it surely will not be long until he is sitting in the Director of Rugby chair somewhere.

We may moan about it, but you certainly notice the absence of the TMO

Nowadays it is a highly unusual event to see any televised rugby without the aid of the TMO, and as a result it often gets overused and therefore criticised.

However the World Rugby U20 Championship does not have the aid of the TMO, which gives a great opportunity to see the contrast. At first it was refreshing, decisions being made without the need for too much time to be wasted, however watching across the games you begin to realise how used we have become to seeing the near perfect awarding or non-awarding of tries. Yesterday saw a lot of tries that might or might not have been given had the aid of the TMO been available, including Will Witty’s effort right at the final whistle of the England game.

Without the TMO there, you do begin to appreciate the accuracy of decision making that it brings with it. That’s not to belittle the referees though; by and large they did a superb job.

Unsettling substitutions and a stuttering second half

It seems churlish to look at a slightly stuttering second half given that England won the game 59-7, however it did bring up an interesting thought about substitutions.

There could be many reasons for the relatively weaker second half compared to the first for England, Japan presumably took a rollocking at half time and upped their game, the temperatures probably had an energy sapping effect, and with the game already won there is always an inevitable drop off.

However the role of substitutes perhaps also played a part. England made a raft of changes at half time, and these are quality players replacing quality players, many will start on Saturday one would think. However making rafts of substitutions does unsettle the rhythm of a side.

We have become used to seeing benches at all levels being unloaded during the second half, and undoubtedly there are good reasons for doing so, but there is also a recognisable pattern that’s rafts of substitutions can be unsettling.

What did you think of the England U20 v Japan U20 match? What stood out for you during the game? Get in touch via @FifteenRugbyXV www.facebook.com/FifteenRugby or through the comment box below.

There were a few other performances worth mentioning, Rory Jennings had a fine game in the ten shirt, while Stuart Townsend and Aaron Morris looked sharp for their braces.

Nick Tompkins as ever looked a class act in midfield, while Will Witty made a fine U20 debut, as did Lewis Ludlum on his return from a broken leg. 

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