England got their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign off to the perfect start on Tuesday as they beat Italy 48-10 at the Manchester City Academy Stadium.
In Academy facilities that many Premiership clubs would be proud to have for their 1st XVs, England ran in six tries to secure victory. The pressure was on at the start, with Scotland having defied the odds to beat Australia in the other Pool B game earlier in the day. With England and Scotland meeting each other on Saturday, the host nation knew they needed the result against the only side they had beaten during a tough U20 RBS 6 Nations campaign.
Perhaps those nerves shone through a little early on as England struggled to break the Italians down, with the game closing in on half time, England only led 7-3.
It was a seven points that brought the loudest cheer of the day though, on a day where the crowd were given plenty to cheer with a thrilling game between Ireland and Wales and an exciting South Africa v Japan game. Local boy George Nott, a second row playing in the back row, gathered the ball on halfway before showing a remarkable turn of pace to simply stride away home, giving London Irish’s former Abingdon School fly half a simple conversion.
Italy hit back with a Leonardo Mantelli drop goal, and that was to remain all to trouble the scorers until the 36th minute when Man of the Match Harry Mallinder dropped a perfect crossfield kick into the arms of former Wellington College flyer Sam Aspland-Robinson.
The former Rugby School star, who has been a revelation for Northampton Saints this season, slotted the touchline conversion and then followed it up with a penalty to send England into the break much more comfortably at 17-3.
It was just the start of what was a glorious patch of play for the inside centre, who absolutely dazzled in the second half. His ability to use his size to cross the gainline, but also to use his handling skills and footballing skills to manipulate the defence and the ball, makes him an outstanding prospect, and the sort of player that one can easily see filling that inside centre slot for the senior side one day. For so long it has been a problem for England, but Mallinder’s blend of physicality and an outside half’s skillset at least make him likely to be part of the conversation in a few years.
He further extended the lead with a penalty 4 minutes into the second half before England scored what must already be a contender for try of the tournament ten minutes later.
Gloucester ex Cheltenham College wing, Ollie Thorley, took a quick lineout to Bath and ex Millfield full back Darren Atkins. Atkins broke through the first line of defence before offloading to Aspland-Robinson. He in turn offloaded to ex Felsted fly half Max Malins, who had come on for the injured Brophy-Clews. As Mallinder swept around to his outside shoulder, Malins delivered the pass, before Mallinder then fired out a bullet to Harlequins’ Joe Marchant, who skipped and danced his way over the line. It was a try of sheer beauty, one that rather than drawing cheers drew long and appreciative applause. This was not a try to be tribal about, this was a try to savour, to appreciate.
England then started to ring the changes, bringing on Lewis Boyce and Will Stuart in the front row. Immediately that paid dividends as England pulverized the Italian scrum, earning a penalty try from the referee.
Four minutes later the forwards were scoring again, this time through Worcester Warriors hooker Jack Singleton. Singleton had been struggling to hit his targets in the line out all day, but nailed this pressure lineout and then got on the end of the drive to score what must have been a hugely satisfying try.
His front row mate Will Stuart nearly secured a delightful one of his own a few minutes later. We have all seen lithe wingers dance down the touchline. This was similar, in that there was a touchline and he was trying to keep his feet in touch, this was more sheer brutality though, as he used his big frame to keep the defenders away. Unfortunately for him, and England, the TMO ruled that he had just clipped the line though.
It mattered not though, England had a penalty and within seconds Bath’s ex Merchiston College number 8, Zach Mercer, was under the posts for England’s final try of the night.
It put them 48-3 ahead, and in all honesty , it seemed as though England would hit fifty, Italy seemed gone. It is to their great credit then that they were able to claim the final, albeit bizarre, try of the game.
Attacking the England line, the tried to dab the ball in behind the defence, however it deflected off an England player and into the hands of blindside flanker Lorenzo Masselli, via a rather more personal area. Bizarre or not, it was a fitting reward for sticking at it in a game where they knew they were on the losing side for a long time.
For England it was the ideal start. After a disappointing U20 6 Nations campaign, they knew they had to start this home U20 World Championship with a bang, to send out a signal to the other sides that they were here and that they are serious title contenders.
After today, they certainly seem like they are.
Full Time: England U20 48-10 Italy U20
Other Results (full roundup of the day to follow):
New Zealand 55-0 Georgia (Pool A)
Ireland 26-25 Wales (Pool A)
Australia 10-15 Scotland (Pool B)
England 48-10 Italy (Pool B)
South Africa 59-19 Japan (Pool C)
France 15-24 Argentina (Pool C)
England U20 XV
15 Darren Atkins (Bath Rugby)
14 Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins)
13 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
12 Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints, captain)
11 Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)
10 Theo Brophy-Clews (London Irish)
9 Max Green (Yorkshire Carnegie)
1 Tom West (Wasps)
2 Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
3 Billy Walker (Saracens)
4 Andrew Kitchener (Worcester Warriors)
5 Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
6 George Nott (Sale Sharks)
7 Jack Willis (Wasps)
8 Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons)
16 Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie)
17 Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie)
18 Will Stuart (Wasps)
19 Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)
20 Josh Bainbridge (Yorkshire Carnegie)
21 Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby)
22 Johnny Williams (London Irish)
23 Max Malins (Saracens)
15 Matteo Minozzi
14 Dario Schiabel
13 Roberto Dal Zilio
12 Marco Zanon
11 Luca Sperandio
10 Leonardo Mantelli
9 Riccardo Raffaele
1 Daniele Rimpelli
2 Engjel Makelara
3 Marco Riccioni
4 Davide Fragnito (captain)
5 Leonard Krumov
6 Lorenzo Masselli
7 Giovanni Pettinelli
8 Giovanni Licata
16 Damiano Borean
17 Nicolo Broglia
18 Giosue Zilocchi
19 Samuele Ortis
20 Davide Ciotoli
21 Matteo Panunzi
22 Andrea Bronzini
23 Lorenzo Masato