World Rugby U20 Championships: England name exciting side to kick off title defence

England have named their side for their opening encounter of the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championships, against Samoa.


Taking place in Georgia this year, England as looking to secure a fourth title in five years, and a second a in a row after victory in Manchester last year. Four of the squad that secured last year’s title are in the 23 for tomorrow’s 10am kick off (BST) against Samoa.


Theo Brophy-Clews skippers the side from fly half, the London Irish and former Abingdon School stand off unfortunately missed the latter half of last year’s competition due to injury. Harry Randall of Gloucester and a former Hartpury College star, and Saracens’ Max Malins, once of Felsted School, are the replacement half backs and both played a part in last year’s tournament.


The final member of the 23 that was also part of last year’s side is number 8 Zach Mercer. Mercer is actually the squad captain, but the former Merchiston Castle star hands the armband to Brophy-Clews for this one, but will be a key figure at the base of the scrum.


He is joined in the back row by his Bath colleague Josh Bayliss. The former Millfield skipper is usually a six but starts at openside with England short on numbers there after both Ben and Tom Curry were called up by the senior squad and Will Evans was lost to illness. Ben Earl, who captained England at the start of their Grand Slam winning U20 6 Nations run before handing over to Mercer after injury, is in the squad but is kept in cotton wool for this one.


Former Sedbergh star Max Davies, now at Newcastle Falcons, completes the back row, moving from his usual second row to blindside flanker.


In the second row former Cranleigh skipper Dino Lamb-Cona makes his debut, the Harlequin was a late replacement for Will Evans, and is joined in the engine room by Exeter Chiefs’ Josh Caulfield.


Caulfield’s Exeter colleague, Marcus Street, starts at tighthead, despite still being eligible for the U18s, a magnificent achievement at such an age. Ollie Dawe of Bristol is at loosehead, with Newcastle Falcons’ Jamie Blamire at hooker.


Joining Brophy-Clews in the half backs is Northampton Saints scrum half Alex Mitchell. Mitchell follows in the footsteps of elder brother and fellow Lymm High School old boy, James.


Worcester Warriors’ Will Butler and Saracens’ Dom Morris, formerly of New Hall, renew their successful centre partnership from the U20 Six Nations, where both performed exceptionally.


It is an exciting and versatile back three for England, with London Irish’s Tom Parton, another from the Wellington College production line, at full back, former Trinity School captain Gabriel Ibitoye, now at Harlequins, on the left wing, and Saracens’ Ali Crossdale, the second Sedbergh old boy in the team, on the right wing making his debut after injury spoiled his 6 Nations chances. All three are comfortable across the back three, while Parton and Crossdale are perfectly happy at fly half, and Ibitoye is a dangerous centre option, so expect them all to pop up across the field.


Joining Randall and Malins as backs cover on the bench is Wasps’ Jacob Umaga, while covering the forwards there are four Gloucester players, including an entire set of front row replacements in Henry Walker, Alex Seville, and Ciaran Knight, as well as back rower Joe Mullis, making it five Gloucester replacements with Randall included. Worcester Warriors’ Justin Clegg rounds off the bench, he covers the second row and is one of two former Bromsgrove pupils on the bench, with Walker the other.


Speaking to ahead of the game, Head Coach Ian Vass spoke about the physicality that Samoa would bring, and of what Mercer, in particular, will bring to the side, saying:


“We’ve picked a team we believe can do a job against Samoa, bearing in mind it’s a long tournament and everyone is going to have to play at some point, Samoa have a lot of talented individual players who can run and score from anywhere on the field. They are very strong physically, carrying and tackling.”


“We want to see the lads put into practice everything we’ve been working on with them since before Christmas. We want to see them playing together as a team and defending as a team also working as hard as they can. If they do that then we have some good players who can make things happen. Really we just want them to put in a performance they can be pleased with.”


“Zach is one of more experienced players; he played in the tournament last year and has played a lot of Premiership games this year,” he said. “He talks a lot to the team and leads by example with his actions on the field.”


England U20 v Samoa U20 – World Rugby U20 Championships, Wednesday 31st May, 10am kick off (BST), Avchala Stadium – Live on


England U20 XV

15 Tom Parton (London Irish)

14 Ali Crossdale (Saracens)

13 Dominic Morris (Saracens)

12 Will Butler (Worcester Warriors)

11 Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins)

10 Theo Brophy Clews (London Irish, captain)

9 Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints)

1 Ollie Dawe (Bristol Rugby)

2 Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons)

3 Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs)

4 Josh Caulfield (Exeter Chiefs)

5 Dino Lamb (Harlequins)

6 Max Davies (Newcastle Falcons)

7 Josh Bayliss (Bath Rugby)

8 Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)

Replacements: 16 Henry Walker (Gloucester Rugby), 17 Alex Seville (Gloucester Rugby), 18 Ciaran Knight (Gloucester Rugby), 19 Justin Clegg (Worcester Warriors), 20 Joe Mullis (Gloucester Rugby), 21 Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby), 22 Max Malins (Saracens), 23 Jacob Umaga (Wasps).


England U20 World Championship fixtures:

England v Samoa: Wednesday 31st May – Avchala Stadium (10am KO BST)

England v Wales: Sunday 4th June – Avchala Stadium (5pm KO BST)

England v Australia: Thursday 8th June –  Avchala Stadium (5pm KO BST)

Tuesday 13th June – Semi-finals and knock-out matches

Sunday 18th June – Final and knock-out matches


2017 World Rugby U20 Championships Pools
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