Eddie Jones’ 31-man England squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan is the talk of the town today, not least after exciting talents in the form of Lewis Ludlam and Ruaridh McConnochie were included.
Ludlam is a player that has been on the Fifteen Rugby radar for some time, not least after being named the Player of the Tournament, alongside fly half Dan Lewis, as captain of St Joseph’s College at the St Joseph’s Festival in October 2013.
He then began to make strides in the professional game, starting with some stunning performance for England U20 at the 2015 World Rugby U20 Championships, where Charlie Ewels, who just missed out on selection for this World Cup squad, led England to the final.
Those performances got us thinking. Outside of New Zealand few teams have much experience of winning silverware at a global level, but England do. In 2013, 2014, and 2016 they won the World Rugby U20 Championships (or IRB Junior World Championships as they were once known).
In total six of Eddie Jones’ 31-man World Cup squad have won that title. Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, and Luke Cowan-Dickie all won in 2013, with Maro Itoje a key figure in the 2014 triumph, and Jack Singleton the hooker in 2016.
Meanwhile the likes of Jack Clifford, Elliot Stooke, Ollie Devoto, Paul Hill, Charlie, Ewels, Nathan Earle, Jack Willis, Ollie Thorley, Zach Mercer, and Joe Marchant were in World Rugby U20 Championship winning squads and have pushed well for consideration to this World Cup squad, particularly Marchant and Ewels who both featured against Wales on Sunday.
Wales too have benefited from England’s success, Ross Moriarty was a part of England’s 2013 and 2014 squads and is now in the Wales setup, likewise Callum Braley who played for Italy against Ireland, and David Sisi, a winner in 2013 and part of the 2012 squad too, who is also in the Italy set up.
England have been losing finalists six times, perhaps most famously in 2011 with a squad that included six of this 2019 Rugby World Cup squad, Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph, George Ford, Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury, and captain Owen Farrell. It was arguably one of England’s strongest ever squads, but they were denied by a New Zealand squad that is probably one of the strongest ever at U20 level with Beauden Barrett, Sam Cane, Codie Taylor, and TJ Perenara all included an likely to be in the New Zealand squad, as could Brodie Retallick if he recovers from injury, while Lima Sopoaga, Steven Luatua, Charles Piutau, and Waisale Naholo could all have featured too but for moves away. It was a New Zealand side that also included Brad Shields, who came so close to making the England squad for this World Cup, and Wales’ Gareth Anscombe whose knee injury on Sunday has ruled him out of the World Cup.
Others with experience of global finals in this England squad are Ben Youngs (’08 and ’09), Jamie George, Joe Marler, and Courtney Lawes (all ‘09). Alongside Ludlamd and Ewels in 2015 was loosehead Ellis Genge, Scotland’s Sam Skinner was also in that squad. Meanwhile in 2017 Joe Cokanasiga and Tom Curry would have played their part but for call ups directly to the senior set up, alongside Nick Isiekwe, Ben Curry, and Jack Maunder, who were all eligible too.
Perhaps all of that experience for global finals could just help this England side out, perhaps not, but it is certainly a nod to the fact that this is a group of players that spent their formative years having great success.
England’s 2019 Rugby World Cup Squad
Dan Cole (Leicester, 86 caps), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter, 12), Tom Curry (Sale, 11), Ellis Genge (Leicester, 10), Jamie George (Saracens, 37), Maro Itoje (Saracens, 27), George Kruis (Saracens, 32), Joe Launchbury (Wasps, 59), Courtney Lawes (Northampton, 72), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton, 1), Joe Marler (Harlequins, 58), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, 22), Jack Singleton (Saracens, 1), Sam Underhill (Bath, 9), Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 42), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 53), Mark Wilson (Newcastle/Sale, 13).
Joe Cokanasiga (Bath, 5), Elliot Daly (Saracens, 31), Owen Farrell (Saracens, 70), George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 56), Piers Francis (Northampton, 5), Willi Heinz (Gloucester, 1), Jonathan Joseph (Bath, 41), Jonny May (Leicester, 45), Ruaridh McConnochie (Bath, uncapped), Jack Nowell (Exeter, 33), Henry Slade (Exeter, 22), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester, 33), Anthony Watson (Bath, 34), Ben Youngs (Leicester, 86).
Bold – Denotes World Rugby U20 Champion
Italics – Denotes World Rugby U20 Finalist