Eddie Jones yesterday named his provisional 45 man Elite Player Squad for the forthcoming England training camp.
While for many the big headlines were the inclusion of Nathan Hughes and the absence of the likes of Danny Cipriani, Chris Ashton, and Luther Burrell, here at Fifteen Rugby what really stands out is the sheer number of recent England U20 internationals in the squad.
England won the World Rugby U20 Championship (or Junior World Championship as it was then known) for the first time in 2013 and since then they have won it a further two times, 2014 and 2016, and finished in the final in 2015.
That is a run of success that only the Baby Blacks in the early days of the Championship have experienced. That spell for them saw the likes of Aaron Cruden and Julian Savea come through, and it looks like England are about to start to reap those rewards from those tournament wins. Already 2013 winner Anthony Watson and 2014 skipper Maro Itoje have started to move into the ‘top class’ category.
In his 45 man squad Eddie Jones has included eleven players from those four teams from 2013 to 2016, that is a huge proportion of the squad and, crucially, these young players are used to winning, success is not just a target to them, it is a reality and an expectation.
Of the eleven only one man, Ellis Genge, has not actually won the tournament, his only experience came in the run to the final in 2015, the other ten are all winners.
Perhaps most striking of all is the inclusion of two players from the 2016 winning side, Harlequins’ outside centre Joe Marchant and Leicester Tigers openside Will Evans. They beat Ireland in the final at Sale’s AJ Bell Stadium less than two months ago and now find themselves up in the main the squad.
Marchant’s skills have been apparent for some time, he is a fleet footed centre with superb all round skills and speed. In 2015 he lit up the U20 6 Nations for England but sadly missed out on that year’s World Championships due to injury, this year, however, he was fit and raring to go, performing with aplomb throughout the tournament.
With Jamie Roberts inside him at club level, and a whole stack of potential international teammates around him, his progress looks only set to continue, though jumping past Jonathan Joseph and Elliot Daly for the England outside centre shirt is going to be some task.
Will Evans is less of a known quantity, 2016 was his first year in the U20 set up, coming at the same time as he broke into the Leicester Tigers 1st XV for a spell. His performances at openside flanker for the Tigers earned rave reviews, while in the World Rugby U20 Championships he quickly became one of the most important players in the England squad.
His play this year caught the attention of Eddie Jones early on, the England Head Coach reportedly asked for videos of all of Evans’ training sessions, such is his admiration for the young man and his determination to track and aid his progress.
The number 7 shirt has been a problem for England for years, as Eddie Jones is well aware and has referenced plenty of times. While James Haskell has performed admirably in that position since Jones’ arrival, sensationally at times in Australia earlier in the summer, the sense is that England are still desperately searching for a classic ‘fetcher’. The availability of former England U18 skipper Sam Underhill has been explored but following the new agreement between England Rugby and Premiership Rugby it has been firmed up that players based abroad will only be selected in an injury crisis.
That makes Evans the main development target, and no wonder after his performances last season. The scary thing is, he will still be eligible for the U20s next year. Looking at the make up of this 45 man squad though, with Matt Kvesic dropped, Evans is the only ‘true’ openside in the squad (if such a thing exists), with Haskell, Jack Clifford (captain of the 2013 U20 winning side from no8), and Teimana Harrison more utility style options. Indeed Jones himself has said that he sees Clifford as a number 8 in the long run. Evans has a chance to truly establish himself.
It is not just the youth from those U20 Championship winning sides that excites though, it is the leadership. Clifford, as stated above, was the 2013 winning captain, Itoje was the 2014 side’s captain, and Bath lock Charlie Ewels was the 2015 captain.
Ewels may perhaps stay quiet in this his first squad, but such is his style on the field that it will not take long for him to start to influence, Clifford is also a good influencer, while Itoje’s manner and leadership on the field is clear to anyone who has seen him play.
It will not be long before these players from this incredible era of success for England U20 start not just to be in and around the senior squad, but also to dominate it and form the core of the side.
World Rugby U20 Championship Representatives (2013-2016) in EPS:
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs) – 2013 Champion
Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers) – 2015 Finalist
Paul Hill (Northampton Saints) – 2014 Champion, 2015 Finalist
Charlie Ewels (Bath) – 2014 Champion, 2015 Finalist & captain
Maro Itoje (Saracens) – 2014 Champion & captain
Jack Clifford (Harlequins) – 2013 Champion & captain
Will Evans (Leicester Tigers) – 2016 Champion
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs) – 2013 Champion
Joe Marchant (Harlequins) – 2016 Champion (injured for 2015 tournament)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs) – 2013 Champion
Anthony Watson (Bath) – 2013 Champion (Promoted from 2014 U20 squad to senior squad)
*Ross Moriarty was part of both the 2013 and 2014 England U20 winning sides and is now a fixture in the Welsh senior squad.
England’s 45 man provisional Elite Player Squad:
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs)
Jamie George (Saracens)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers)
Joe Marler (Harlequins)
Matt Mullan (Wasps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)
Paul Hill (Northampton Saints)
Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins)
Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby)
Maro Itoje (Saracens)
George Kruis (Saracens)
Joe Launchbury (Wasps)
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
Mike Williams (Leicester Tigers)
Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
Jack Clifford (Harlequins)
Will Evans (Leicester Tigers)
Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints)
James Haskell (Wasps)
Josh Beaumont (Sale Sharks)
Nathan Hughes (Wasps)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens)
Danny Care (Harlequins)
Dan Robson (Wasps)
Joe Simpson (Wasps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)
George Ford (Bath Rugby)
Owen Farrell (Saracens)
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors)
Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)
Elliot Daly (Wasps)
Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
Joe Marchant (Harlequins)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs)
Semesa Rokoduguni (Bath Rugby)
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)
Marland Yarde (Harlequins)
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Alex Goode (Saracens)
Mike Haley (Sale Sharks)