This week we continue our series looking at England U20 sides from IRB Junior World Championships and World Rugby U20 Championships of the past.
Last time we took a look at the England U20 side from that superb final against New Zealand in 2011, two of the great U20 sides of the modern era, who formed the core of the teams from the summer’s Lions Series.
This week we take a look at the England U20 side from the 2012 IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa. There were few survivors from that 2011 side, and perhaps that showed as England had their worst ever finish in the U20 Championships, finished 7th after beating Australia 17-13 in the 7th place play-off.
It was a slightly harsh finish though, they had tied with both South Africa and Ireland in the group stages with two wins and one loss each, however a lack of bonus points cost England, with South Africa finishing top on 11 points, Ireland second on 10, and England third, on 9. South Africa would go on to win the title, becoming the first side to take it from New Zealand’s grasp, beating them 22-16 in the final.
This may not have been the most successful England U20 group, but it was a crucial group, a huge number of future England internationals came though, and they also laid the foundations for the 2013 side, who became the first England side to win the IRB Junior World Championship.
England U20 XV – 2012 IRB Junior World Championship 7th Place Play-off:
15 Ben Ransom (London Irish)
This was Ransom’s second Junior World Championship, since then Ransom has been a little unlucky to have been stuck behind a top class operator in Alex Goode, the 2009 England U20 fly half, at Saracens. In a bid for more 1st XV action, he moved to London Irish last year.
14 Marland Yarde (England & Sale Sharks)
Having been on the bench a year previously, Yarde was now a key member of the starting backline. Linked well with then clubmate Ransom in the back three. Yarde has since gone on to represent England, though recent off-field issues could cloud his future involvement.
13 Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs)
Hill is yet to be capped by England but has come very close having been called into Eddie Jones’ first England 6 Nations squad. The centre played two full seasons of U20 international rugby and has since gone on to be a rock solid performer for Exeter Chiefs, one of the first of England first ever U20 world title winners to break through to regular senior rugby.
12 Ryan Mills (Worcester Warriors)
Like Yarde, Mills was on the bench in the previous year’s final and was now a key starter. He has come close to England honours, being called into Eddie Jones’ England camp over the summer, but is yet to make that full breakthrough. A classy operator in midfield.
11 Charlie Walker (Harlequins & England 7s)
Walker is surely one of the fastest players in the Premiership. He spent time with England 7s a year after this tournament, and that 7s pedigree is often seen at the Singha 7s too. Has never quite fully inked himself into the Quins starting side, but is always there or thereabouts and has amassed nearly 70 appearances now. One of the best finshers around.
10 Tom Heathcote (Scotland & Worcester Warriors)
After competing as an U20 for England, Heathcote then went on to play for Scotland, earning three caps. That call up prompted a move from Bath to Edinburgh, but his international career never quite kicked on and he has since moved back to England with Worcester Warriors.
9 Dan Robson (England Saxons & Wasps)
Another of the previous year’s bench to move into the starting XV in this tournament. Robson has been on the fringes of the England squad for a while, performing outstandingly well for Wasps but not yet managing to break into that England set up. Surely one of the most unfortunate in this side not have been capped yet.
1 Alec Hepburn (England Saxons & Exeter Chiefs)
Hepburn has become a stalwart for Exeter Chiefs over the last few years and forms a part of a core of young players that came through the age-grade ranks. Hepburn’s was a more unusual route though, starting at London Welsh and then moving to Australia before heading to Sandy Park in 2014.
2 Koree Britton (Brixham)
One of the few players from this squad not to be playing Premiership rugby now. Britton carved out a good career with Gloucester before moving to Northampton Saints and London Welsh. When London Welsh’s troubles hit, he moved to Chinnor, and is now plying his trade with Brixham in the South West Premier, home of Will Greenwood’s Maidenhead RFC.
3 Kyle Sinckler (British & Irish Lions, England, & Harlequins)
Sinckler became something of a cult hero over the summer thanks to his exploits with the British and Irish Lions. Clearly thrilled to be there, Sinckler exuded a boyish enthusiasm. He has the potential to be a huge weapon at tighthead for club and country, but disciplinary issues are costing him at the moment, he is currently banned for making contact with the eye area.
4 Dom Barrow (Leicester Tigers)
Increasingly Barrow is becoming a key force in the Tigers’ engine room, having performed with distinction at Newcastle Falcons and Yorkshire Carnegie, with whom he was contracted during this IRB Junior World Championship. Since Ed Slater’s departure, his stock is going up and up at Welford Road.
5 George Merrick (Harlequins)
The third U20 graduate in two years for Harlequins in the second row, following Charlie Matthews and Sam Twomey. Like those two, Merrick has carved out a strong career so far in the Harlequins second row, and will be looking to solidify his place as a starter.
6 David Sisi (Zebre)
Sisi was always considered one of the brightest prospect of his age-grade years, such was the power and intelligence of his ball-carrying. He started with London Irish before moving to Bath, and then back to London Irish again, but never quite managed to force his way into the 1st XVs. A move to Italian side Zebre in the Pro 14 this summer is paying off though, and we are starting to see the sort of form that was long hoped of from Sisi.
7 Chris Walker (c) (Rennes)
After 127 appearances for Yorkshire Carnegie, Walker moved this summer to Brittany in France to play for Rennes in Fédérale 2, the fourth tier of French rugby (National 2 in England). His younger brother Jack recently moved to Bath and was Yorkshire Carnegie’s youngest ever captain at 18 years old, taking Charlie’s record from him, and is tipped as a star of the future.
8 Jack Clifford (England & Harlequins)
Clifford went on to captain England U20 to Junior World Championship glory the following year, and has since gone on to represent England and Harlequins across the back row. Injury has been the main stumbling block for him, but a good clear run without injury could see him force his way into Eddie Jones’ England World Cup Squad.
16 Nathan Morris (Old Elthamians)
17 Luke Cowan-Dickie (England & Exeter Chiefs)
18 Ross Harrison (England Saxons & Sale Sharks)
19 Ben Nutley (Northampton Saints)
20 Billy Vunipola (England & Saracens)
21 Ben Spencer (Saracens)
22 Henry Slade (England & Exeter Chiefs)
23 Tommy Bell (London Irish)
It says something for the quality of Jack Clifford that he kept Billy Vunipola out of this side. Vunipola went on to make his senior debut a year later and has been arguably the top number 8 in the world in recent times.
England caps have also arrived for Exeter Chiefs pair Henry Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, Cowan-Dickie was yet to make his move from loosehead to hooker at this stage, and both also went on to be key figures in the 2013 title winning U20 side.
Ben Nutley and Ben Spencer have gone on to have solid careers at Northampton Saints and Saracens respectively, Spencer has occasionally been tipped for caps. Tommy Bell rose from Jersey to star for Leicester Tigers a couple of year ago and is now at Leicester, while Sale’s Ross Harrison forced his way into Eddie Jones’ England squad this summer. Nathan Morris has dropped down a few notches to the ambitious Old Elthamians.
While this might not have been the most successful England U20 group at the IRB Junior World Championships, they certainly produced plenty of top players. A number of them went on to star in the 2013 title winning side too, who we will be looking into in our next England U20 feature.
In the meantime you can delve into a few of the other England U20 sides from Junior World Championships past: