England have named their side for their opening U20 6 Nations game against France at Sandy Park on Saturday, midday kick off.
England had a dismal campaign last year, only beating Italy, but recovered in style to secure their third World Rugby U20 Championship in four years in Manchester back in June.
Tonbridge leaver Ben Earl skippers the side on his U20 debut, he starts at openside flanker having recently made his debut. He is joined in the back row by two others who have been tearing up trees in the pro ranks this season. Tom Curry, and Oundle School leaver, start sat blindside, with his twin brother Ben on the bench for Sale, while Zach Mercer, who earlier signed a first team contract with Bath, starts at number 8.
Mercer, the former Merchiston Castle player, is one of five players in the side who featured in last year’s victorious World Rugby U20 Championship campaign. The half back pairing of Gloucester’s former Hartpury College scrum half Harry Randall, and Saracens’ Max Malins, a Felsted old boy, at fly half are an experienced U20 pair with 14 caps between them.
Outside of them, Yorkshire Carnegie’s Max Wright was also part of that campaign, he is alongside Worcester Warriors’ uncapped Will Butler in the centres.
Sam Aspland-Robinson is the final player to have been a part of that Championship winning side. The Harlequins man starts on the left wing, where he is part of a back three that includes his former Wellington College teammate, Tom Parton at full back. Completing the back three is Parton’s London Irish teammate, Joe Cokanasiga, who has been in fierce form in the Championship this year.
Back in the back, there is a familiar surname to England fans, Dawe. Bristol’s Ollie Dawe, son of former Bath and England legend Graham, starts at looshead. Gloucester’s Joe Mullis starts at hooker, with KES Aston old boy Joe Morris, now of Worcester Warriors, at tighthead.
The second row is an all Saracens engine room of former Berkhamsted man Jack Nay, and Haileybury old boy Nick Isiekwe, who could soon be pushing Maro itoje and George Kruis for a spot in the Saracens first XV.
It is not just the team that has seen a shake up since last year, the coaching structure is different too, with Louis Deacon, Ian Vass and Tom Williams joining the England U20 management team for the duration of the season as part of a new coach development agreement signed between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, and Dean Ryan overseeing things as head of international player development.
The England bench is equally exciting, Newcastle’s Jamie Blamire, Sale’s Jake Pope, and Gloucester’s Ciaran Knight cover the front row, with Worcester’s back to back NatWest Cup winner with Bromsgrove Justin Clegg, covering the second row.
Josh Bayliss, last year’s Millfield captain and skipper of the summer England U18 tour, covers the back row, with Northampton Saints scrum half, and ex Lymm High School man, Alex Mitchell joining him. Wasps’ Jacob Umaga covers fly half and inside centre, while Trinity old boy Gabriel Ibitoye, another who captained the U18s, covers everywhere from 13 out.
Speaking to England Rugby ahead of the game, Dean Ryan said:
“The U20 Six Nations is a fantastic opportunity for these players and management to continue their development on the international stage. All of the starting 15 have previously played at England U18 level so we are aware of the qualities they will bring to the team and the match will be a test of the intensity levels required of them at this level.”
England U20 v France U20 – Saturday, 12.00, Sandy Park (Live on Sky Sports 5)
England U20 XV
15 Tom Parton (London Irish), 14 Joe Cokanasiga (London Irish), 13 Max Wright (Yorkshire Carnegie), 12 Will Butler (Worcester Warriors), 11 Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins), 10 Max Malins (Saracens), 9 Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby), 1 Ollie Dawe (Bristol), 2 Joe Mullis (Gloucester), 3 Joseph Morris (Worcester Warriors), 4 Jack Nay (Saracens), 5 Nick Isiekwe (Saracens), 6 Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), 7 Ben Earl (Saracens, captain), 8 Zach Mercer (Bath).
Replacements: 16 Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons), 17 Jake Pope (Sale Sharks), 18 Ciaran Knight (Gloucester Rugby), 19 Justin Clegg (Worcester Warriors), 20 Josh Bayliss (Bath Rugby), 21 Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints), 22 Jacob Umaga (Wasps), 23 Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins).