England U20 Head Coach Martin Haag has made five changes to the side that beat Italy 48-10 on Tuesday ahead of their second World Rugby U20 Championship fixture, against Scotland on Saturday.
The 18.00 kick off at the Manchester City Academy Stadium is a vital fixture for both sides, particularly in light of Scotland beating Australia on Tuesday, a result that has certainly shaken up the group.
Squad captain Jack Walker, playing in his third U20 World Championship, returns to the starting XV to skipper the side, having come off the bench on Saturday. The rest of the front row remains the same with Tom West and Billy Walker both keeping their place.
In the second row Huw Taylor keeps his place, while Harlequins’ former Whitgift School star Stan South comes in for Andrew Kitchener, named in the World Rugby U20 Championshop Round 1 ‘Dream Team’, who drops to the bench.
In the back row local lad George Nott keeps his place at 6 after his try-scoring exploits on Tuesday, with Callum Chick staying at number 8. At openside the excellent Leicester Tigers fetcher, Will Evans, comes in for Wasps’ Jack Willis.
In the backline there are just two changes. One is enforced, London Irish fly half Theo Brophy-Clews injured his right foot against Italy and has been ruled out of the tournament, Yorkshire Carnegie centre Max Wright replaces him in the wider squad. In the starting team that means that Tuesday’s man of the match, Harry Mallinder, moves from inside centre to fly half, with London Irish’s young star Johnny Williams stepping up from the bench to fill the 12 shirt.
Next to him Joe Marchant keeps his place at outside centre with Max Green staying at scrum half, there is one change in the back three, with Saracens’ ex Whitgift flyer Matt Gallagher starting on the left wing, with Ollie Thorley dropping to the bench, Sam Aspland-Robinson keeps his place on the right, with Darren Atkins again at full back.
Speaking ahead of the game, Martin Haag said:
“Training has been good, and we continue to build and improve each week, so I’m delighted with how we are developing as a squad, it’s a short turnaround between games, we have recovered well and when we have trained it’s been at a high intensity. The attitude and way the boys approach training has been spot on, we need to transfer that onto the field of play.”
“It doesn’t matter who the opposition is, we want to go out there and play to a level and style that we aspire to. We will keep working hard to ensure we continue to grow and develop as a squad, while also making sure the players are getting the opportunity to enjoy playing in a home World Championship. We’ve trained well, prepared well and are in a good place.”
“That home support is hugely important and it’s crucial for us to start well and get the crowd on their feet, to play at a packed stadium in our home tournament will be added motivation for the players. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, it’s up to them to make the most of it. We need to perform and play with calmness and composure.”
It certainly will be a packed stadium, over 5,000 are expected to be at the stadium on Saturday. It ought to be a big inspiration for the players, but it will also bring a certain pressure, particularly as the pressure is already on against a Scotland side brimming with confidence, who also beat England during the U20 RBS 6 Nations campaign.
England will also surely be looking at the teams for the Saxons game this evening and the 1st Test against Australia tomorrow morning for a bit of inspiration too.
Across both 23s there are a total of eight players who have played in at least one of the last three U20 World Championships, with England winning in 2013 and 2014, and reaching the final in 2015.
It ought to serve as a great inspiration for this crop, who will see that with hard work and success at this level, the senior squads are just a stone throw away.
Paul Hill, on the bench for the senior side, was involved last year and won the 2014 tournament alongside Maro Itoje, who starts in the second row, Charlie Ewels, in the second row for the Saxons, and Nick Tompkins, who starts at outside centre for the Saxons.
Meanwhile Anthony Watson, on the wing for the seniors, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell, both on the bench for the seniors, and Ollie Devoto, starting at inside centre for the Saxons, were winners back in 2013.
That step is definitely achievable, and will surely be a huge motivational tool for this group ahead of tomorrow’s game against Scotland. The likes of Mallinder and Williams have already showed their talent on the Premiership stage, others will follow suit, and many will be thinking that they can go that extra step further.
England U20 v Scotland U20 – Saturday, 18.00, Manchester City Academy Stadium, Live on Sky Sports
England U20 XV
15 Darren Atkins (Bath Rugby)
14 Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins)
13 Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
12 Johnny Williams (London Irish)
11 Matt Gallagher (Saracens)
10 Harry Mallinder (Northampton Saints)
9 Max Green (Yorkshire Carnegie)
1 Tom West (Wasps)
2 Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie, captain)
3 Billy Walker (Saracens)
4 Stan South (Harlequins)
5 Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)
6 George Nott (Sale Sharks)
7 Will Evans (Leicester Tigers)
8 Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons)
16 Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)
17 Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie)
18 Will Stuart (Wasps)
19 Andrew Kitchener (Worcester Warriors)
20 Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)
21 Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby)
22 Max Malins (Saracens)
23 Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)