England have named their U20 side to face Italy on Friday evening for their opening U20 6 Nations fixture of the tournament.
Kicking off at 6pm GMT in Italy at the Stadio Enzo Bearzot, Head Coach Steve Bates has named seven debutants in his starting fifteen.
There is plenty of experience around them though, notably in Saracens’ Ben Earl. The former Tonbridge School man will skipper the side from the number 7 shirt, as he has done for Saracens Storm in the A League this season. He also captained England U20 last year until injury curtailed his involvement.
Commenting on Earl’s captaincy, Steve Bates said:
“Ben Earl is experienced and was with us all of last season, including throughout the World Rugby U20 Championship. His leadership qualities there were very evident, he is passionate, competitive and leads by example on and off the pitch. He is tactically astute and also a very good player.
Joining Earl in the back row are two other players that have been making waves this year, former Henley College man Tom Willis starts at 8 and has appeared for Wasps this year. Sale Sharks’ Sam Moore starts at 6, though is normally more of an 8, the former Sedbergh man skippered England U18 last year.
Harlequins’ Dino Lamb-Cona starts in the second row, he was part of Cranleigh School’s Rosslyn Park HSBC National School 7s triumph back in 2016 and is partnered by ex Malvern College man James Scott, the Worcester Warrior will be making his debut.
In the front row Northampton Saints’ Toby Trinder makes his debut at loosehead, but there is experience alongside him. Former Bromsgrove star Henry Walker starts at hooker, with Exeter Chiefs’ Marcus Street at tighthead. The former Exeter College man was one of three players to play for both England U18 and U20 last year, Ted Hill and a certain Marcus Smith being the others.
There is a Midlands feel to the half back pairing, Leicester Tigers Ben White is at scrum half, the former Denstone College livewire makes his debut, while James Grayson is at ten. The Northampton Saint has had plenty of 1st XV experience for his club this year.
Worcester Warriors’ Will Butler starts at inside centre, he was one of England’s stars last year. He is joined in the centres by former Bedford and Scotland U16 centre Fraser Dingwall, the Northampton Saint will be making his debut.
The back three looks very exciting, Harlequins’ Gabriel Ibitoye starts on the right wing, the former Trinity School and England U18 skipper is one to watch throughout the tournament. Joining him in the back three are two of London Irish’s back three, both former Wellington College pupils, Tom Parton and Ben Loader. Loader will be making his debut, while Parton was a key figure for the side last year.
The bench looks exciting too, Alex Seville and Joe Morris will provide plenty of U20 experience covering prop, while former Millfield star Gabriel Oghre, now of Wasps, will make his debut if he comes on at hooker.
Former Denstone College star Sam Lewis covers the second row and offers plenty of experience, while another former Wellington College player, Josh Basham, covers the back row. The London Irish man will make his debut when he comes on.
There is yet more Wellington College talent in the 23 in replacement scrum half Rory Brand, while covering outside half and the outside backs are two Leicester Tigers, former Rugby School star Tom Hardwick, and Jordan Olowofela.
Speaking ahead of the game, Bates said of his squad:
“It’s been really difficult to select a XV because we have some very talented young players and several of them have performed very well over the first half of the season. Choosing the 32-man elite player squad was difficult enough, so narrowing that down has been even tougher. We’ve tried to take into consideration the way they have performed in our two camps, which has been first class, as well as the games they’ve played up until Christmas.”
“We’ll play high-intensity, high-tempo rugby against Italy and I expect us to be robust and direct. We’ve also talked about being reactive throughout the tournament and I think we have a side that is very versatile. Excitement is building among the squad, this is the first match of the tournament and we’re determined to make our own history.”
“Most of the players in the senior side have played U20 rugby so that shows the strength of the pathway. The pathway is there to promote players through the programme and the new caps will be excited about following in the footsteps of some very special players. They recognise how big an opportunity this is for them.”
England U20 XV v Italy U20 – Friday 6pm GMT, Stadio Enzo Bearzot
15 Tom Parton (London Irish), 14 Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins), 13 Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), 12 Will Butler (Worcester Warriors), 11 Ben Loader (London Irish), 10 James Grayson (Northampton Saints), 9 Ben White (Leicester Tigers), 1 Toby Trinder (Northampton Saints), 2 Henry Walker (Gloucester), 3 Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), 4 Dino Lamb (Harlequins), 5 James Scott (Worcester Warriors), 6 Sam Moore (Sale Sharks), 7 Ben Earl (Saracens, captain), 8 Tom Willis (Wasps).
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre (Wasps), 17 Alex Seville (Gloucester), 18 Joe Morris (Worcester Warriors), 19 Sam Lewis (Leicester Tigers), 20 Josh Basham (London Irish), 21 Rory Brand (London Irish) 22 Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), 23 Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers)