The England U20 Elite Player Squad for the forthcoming season has been announced.
The squad will be aiming to defend their Six Nations title, and will hope to emulate the 2013 and 2014 sides as they aim for the World Rugby U20 Championship, which is held in Manchester this year, in June.
It is a 32-man squad, built from the stars of the school scene over the past couple of years. Some in the squad, hooker Jack Walker, back row Josh Bainbridge, winger George Perkins, and centre Joe Marchant, were already part of the U20 set up, but the bulk have come either straight from school or were on the fringes of the squad last year, a year too young.
Walker, surely a safe bet to be a senior England hooker sooner rather than later, Bainbridge, and Perkins were all part of the side that reached the final of the previous U20 World Championship, while Marchant would have been but for injury. Walker, in fact, already has a global title to his name as he was part of the side that won the competition in 2014, as an U18.
With the likes of Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie, and Maro Itoje all recently part of the senior England set up in recent years, the steps from the U20 shirt to the senior shirt are there for all in this squad to see, and the gap seems to be ever reducing.
Ian Peel, who steps up from Forwards Coach to Head Coach, said of the squad:
“Naming a new squad each year is exciting and there are always different combinations and blends of where the players come from. We have the season to help them improve individually but also the challenge of bringing the talent together and putting it into strong team performances come the Six Nations and then into the World Championship.”
“Selection is getting harder each year because we have more and more young players to choose from as a result of all the good work going on within the academies. Their U18 league has had a positive effect with players regularly competing against tough opposition. The guys are nurtured well within their clubs getting good opportunities either on loan, in the A league or even in the first team. We are then privileged to work with the top talent within this group.”
“We are constantly assessing where players are at. The squad is reviewed at Christmas and we can make some changes. Players will have gone away and worked hard to push for a place.”
“Equally, those who have been named understand that they need to continue improving to keep their place and maximise their potential if they want to be putting their hands up for selection in the Six Nations. I believe we have a really strong group and if they work well together and perform well, they will have success, it is about being the best they can individually and as a team.”
As Peel alludes to, there are a number of top quality players, particularly from the current crop of school leavers, who have not quite made the cut, however as last year showed, this squad will be fluid and plenty of names will come in and out for whatever reason between now and June.
Some of the key names that followers of schools and U18 rugby over the last couple of years might notice include Abingdon leaver Theo Brophy-Clews, who last year became London Irish’s youngest ever scorer, Sam Aspland-Robinson, a star of Wellington College’s superb season last year, and Max Malins, who is adept at fly half, centre, and full back, though was predominantly in the 10 shirt for Felsted.
Alex Mitchell, a Lymm High School leaver, follows in older brother James’ footsteps as he is named in the U20 squad, while Jamie Shillcock continues his rapid rise. The Warwick School leaver was not in the national set up at this time last year but as the season went on he represented England Counties U18, played in the Worcester Warriors 1st XV, got taken on the England U18 summer tour, played for England U18 7s, and is now in the England U20 squad – quite the rise!
The name on everyone’s lips last year was Hartpury College’s Mathew Protheroe, and the Gloucester man is named in the U20 squad. Indeed Protheroe was one of our outside bets to make the England 2019 World Cup squad.
Other stand out names are Epsom College leaver Archie White and Merchiston Castle leaver Zach Mercer, who this time last year was being named the St Joseph’s Festival player of the tournament. Ollie Thorley is known to many after he made his Gloucester debut aged 17, the former Cheltenham College man is a real prospect as is Whitgift old boy Stan South and the Worcester and Old Swinford Hosptial due of Sam Smith and Huw Taylor.
Naturally the whole squad is made up of standout players from the past few years of school rugby though, and with a home World Championship, they will be even more fired up than usual.
Keep an eye on this lot, a fair few will be household names in the next couple of years. After all, only eighteen months ago Maro Itoje was playing at this level.
England U20 Squad:
Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins)
Joshua Bainbridge (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Theo Brophy Clews (London Irish)
Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons)
Andrew Kitchener (Worcester Warriors)
Max Malins (Saracens)
Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints)
Joseph Marchant (Harlequins)
Jack Maunder (Exeter Chiefs)
Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints)
Joe Mullis (Gloucester Rugby)
George Nott (Sale Sharks)
Paolo Odogwu (Leicester Tigers)
George Perkins (Saracens)
Jake Pope (Sale Sharks)
Taylor Prell (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Mathew Protheroe (Gloucester Rugby)
Will Safe (Gloucester Rugby)
Jamie Shillcock (Worcester Warriors)
Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
Samuel Smith (Worcester Warriors)
Stanley South (Harlequins)
William Stuart (Wasps)
Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
Oliver Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
Billy Walker (Saracens)
Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie)
Tom West (Wasps)
Archie White (Harlequins)
John Williams (London Irish)