England have named their side for Thursday’s World Rugby U20 Championship group stage finale against Australia.
The winner will qualify for the main semi finals, while a bonus point defeat could see the loser sneak through as the best runner up, if other results go their way.
The momentum is with England though, who breezed past Samoa in their opener before a good win against Wales. Australia, by contrast, needed a late score to beat Wales and were involved in a much closer encounter against Samoa than England.
Former Merchiston Castle number 8 turned Bath star, Zach Mercer, skippers the side from the base of the scrum, with Saracens’ ex-Tonbridge skipper Ben Earl at openside and the former Cranleigh School maestro, Dino Lamb-Cona, at blindside.
Earl’s Saracens teammate, Jack Nay, formerly of Berkhamsted School, starts again in the second row against Exeter Chiefs’ Josh Caulfield.
Caulfield’s Exeter teammate, Marcus Street of Exeter College, starts at tighthead. The prop forward has also played for the U18s this season, showing how much talent he has at his disposal. Joining him in the front row is Bristol’s Ollie Dawe at loosehead, and Gloucester’s Henry Walker at hooker, the former NatWest Cup winner with Bromsgrove.
In the backline Harry Randall and Max Malins are again paired in the half backs, the former Hartpury College and Felsted men were part of the side that won the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championships.
As against Wales on Sunday, England are again replicating the Ford-Farrell axis of the senior side, with London Irish’s former Abingdon fly half, Theo Brophy-Clews, at inside centre. Worcester Warriors’ Will Butler, who picked up a knock in the opening game, is selected at outside centre.
The back three sees Tom Parton, once of Wellington College, at full back once again, with former Trinity skipper, Gabriel Ibitoye, one of the stars of England’s campaign so far, on the left. Sale Sharks’ Paolo Odogwu comes in on the right wing having been called into the squad as an injury replacement, with Head Coach Ian Vass saying of his call up:
“It’s a really big opportunity for Paolo, he has played to a high level all year, he’s played in the Premiership so is highly capable and an exciting player. We want to try and get him on the ball because he is a good finisher and a dangerous attacking player.”
There is another call up on the bench, in former Millfield flyer Darren Atkins, who recently signed a new contract with Bath. He replaces Sam Aspland-Robinson, who has been ruled out of the tournament, with Vass saying: “It’s hugely disappointing for Sam who has made a great contribution both in this tournament and for the U20s, we’re also disappointed to be losing a player of his quality.”
Joining Atkins on the bench is former Lymm High School scrum half Alex Mitchell, now at Northampton Saints. They are the only two backs, with Vass having taken a 6-2 forwards-backs split on the bench.
The forwards replacements include the versatile Josh Bayliss and Max Davies, who bother cover back and second rows, alongside specialist second row Justin Clegg. The front row replacements are Joe Mullis, Ralph Adams-Hale, and Ciaran Knight.
Speaking to www.englandrugby.com ahead of the game, Vass said:
“It’s been a short turnaround but training has been good and we’ve worked hard off the field more importantly, we’re confident in what we’re trying to achieve and that’s to get into a World Rugby U20 Championship semi-final.”
“The competition is getting better with every game so we need to improve also and that’s what we’ve tried to achieve in training. If we perform as we can, the result will take care of itself. Our primary concern is on performing well and beating Australia.”
“Our aim is to win the game and if we do that we’re in the semi-final, but our primary concern is on performing well and beating Australia, they are tactically astute so we need to be on our toes as a team and react as well as adapt to whatever they are doing. They have had two tough games and have shown a mental edge to come through them.”
England U20 v Australia U20 – Thursday, 5.30pm kick off – Live on www.worldrugby.org
England U20 XV:
15 Tom Parton (London Irish)
14 Paolo Odogwu (Sale Sharks)
13 Will Butler (Worcester Warriors)
12 Theo Brophy Clews (London Irish)
11 Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins)
10 Max Malins (Saracens)
9 Harry Randall (Gloucester)
1 Ollie Dawe (Bristol)
2 Henry Walker (Gloucester)
3 Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs)
4 Josh Caulfield (Exeter Chiefs)
5 Jack Nay (Saracens)
6 Dino Lamb-Cona (Harlequins)
7 Ben Earl (Saracens)
8 Zach Mercer (Bath, captain)
Replacements: 16 Joe Mullis (Gloucester), 17 Ralph Adams-Hale (Saracens), 18 Ciaran Knight (Gloucester), 19 Justin Clegg (Worcester Warriors), 20 Max Davies (Newcastle Falcons), 21 Josh Bayliss (Bath), 22 Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints), 23 Darren Atkins (Bath).
2017 World Rugby U20 Championship Fixtures & Results (all times BST):
|Round 1 – Wednesday 31st May|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|
|Australia 24-17 Wales||Ireland 21-22 Italy||Argentina 37-26 Georgia|
|England 74-17 Samoa||New Zealand 42-20 Scotland||South Africa 23-23 France|
|Round 2 – Sunday 4th June|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|
|Australia 33-26 Samoa||Ireland 28-32 Scotland||Argentina 25-26 France|
|England 34-22 Wales||New Zealand 68-26 Italy||South Africa 38-14 Georgia|
|Round 3 – Thursday 8th June|
|Pool A||Pool B||Pool C|
|England v Australia – 5.30pm||Ireland v New Zealand – 12.30pm||Argentina v South Africa – 12.30pm|
|Wales v Samoa – 10am||Scotland v Italy – 10am||France v Georgia – 3pm|
Semi Finals – Tuesday 13th June
Finals – Sunday 18th June
2017 World Rugby U20 Championship Group Standings: