On New Year’s Day Alan Dickens named his 32-man England U20 Elite Player Squad for 2021, the squad that should form the basis of the group that will tackle first the U20 Six Nations and then the World Rugby U20 Championships.
The talented young group sees 14 backs and 18 forwards selected, a mixture of those in their second year out of school and those that left in July 2020. Six of those second year academy players have represented England U20 previously, Harvey Beaton, Jack Clement, Luke Green, Sam Riley, Tom Roebuck, and Jack van Poortvliet, having all contributed during the truncated 2020 U20 season.
Clement, of course, has hit the headlines after being called into Eddie Jones’ Senior Squad in the autumn, and as such the Gloucester man can be expected to play a key role in the U20 squad.
Another name likely to be familiar to the wider rugby public is that of Wasps fly half Charlie Atkinson. The Abingdon School leaver was moved straight to the Wasps senior squad upon leaving school this summer and has featured a number of times, with some superb performances along the way.
He is a part of a high calibre group of fly halves, including Warwick School leaver Fin Smith, now at Worcester Warriors, Tommy Matthews of Northampton Saints and previously Hartpury College, Bath’s Orlando Bailey, who is also comfortable at 12 and 15, and Leeds Tykes’ Dan Lancaster, who previously featured for Scotland at age-grade level.
Roebuck and van Poortvliet are the two backs in the squad with previous U20 experience, Roebuck is joined in the backs by his Sale Sharks teammates Joe Carpenter, once of Leeds, and Raffi Quirke, who will compete with van Poortvliet at scrum half.
Like fly half, the centres are an area of astonishing quality in this group, with Worcester Warriors former Bromsgrove skipper Seb Atkinson, the highly rated Harlequins and ex Cranleigh centre Oscar Beard, and Millfield leaver Will Joseph, who is at London Irish where his elder brother and England star Jonathan began his career, joining Roebuck as outright centres alongside a number of others who can cover the position.
In the back three look out for the aforementioned Carpenter, and possibly Orlando Bailey, whose namesake Deago from Bristol Bears is a man to keep a close eye on. As is Northampton Saints’ Tommy Freeman.
Up front there is plenty to be excited about, beginning with the appointment of a new forwards coach in the form of former British and Irish Lions, England, and Sale Sharks hooker, Andy Titterrell, who has coached at Wasps and England Saxons. Speaking on Titterrell’s appointment, Alan Dickens said:
“It’s great to have Andy Titterrell join the U20s coaching team. He has a wealth of experience from playing and coaching, having represented England and been on a Lions tour during his playing days. I worked with him previously on the 2016 Saxons tour to South Africa and know he’s going to be a valuable member of the U20s management group.
Among those under Titterrell’s watchful eye in the forward pack will be the experienced Harvey Beaton, Luke Green, Jack Clement, and Sam Riley, a young hooker likely to have generated plenty of headlines were it not for the outstanding and expected rise of a certain Alfie Barbeary.
Among the other forwards are plenty of familiar names, not least London Irish’s Lucas Brooke, son of All Blacks legend Zinzan. He is joined in the squad by fellow Wellington College leaver and London Irish teammate Marcus Rhodes, and in all likelihood there would have been a third Wellington College old boy in the squad in the form of Fin Baxter, however he looks likely to be heavily occupied with Harlequins in the coming months.
Baxter’s propping partner in crime from U18 level, Phil Brantingham of Newcastle Falcons, is included. The former RGS Newcastle skipper is one of a number of formidable forwards making the leap from the U18s, among the Leicester Tigers back row Emeka Ilione, a player to keep a keen eye on in this squad. As is Bristol Bears’ Ben Bamber, a Rugby League convert signed from Huddersfield who is seen as a second row.
Bamber is far from the only highly touted second row in this squad, and chief among them is Leicester Tigers’ George Martin, who has been a key player in Leicester’s dominance of the U18 Academy League in recent years. Joining Bamber and Martin in the engine room are Bath’s former Millfield star Ewan Richards, Gloucester’s Arthur Clark, and Bristol Bears’ Alex Groves.
Meanwhile Clark’s Gloucester teammate Freddie Thomas can cover both the second row and the back row, with Bath’s Ethan Staddon and Nahum Merigan two out and out back rowers with bags of potential. Lewis Holsey of Worcester Warriors and Ethan Hunt of Gloucester meanwhile join the front row ranks having shown huge promise through the season.
Commenting on the selection as a whole, Dickens explained: “Selection for the squad has been based on a combination of things. The four previous regional games we had at St George’s Park, the work we do with the club academies and coaches, plus our knowledge of the players within the pathway. We can only name 32 in the EPS and there will be some disappointed players, but we have a much wider squad that we know will be involved and will contribute during the year.”
On the challenges presented over 2020 as he prepared this U20 squad, Dickens said: “2020 was a challenging year, but we faced that head on, ensuring we had contact with players within the pathway – firstly by setting up calls between them and those in the senior England men’s squad. We then had mini regional camps which…allowed us to get to know more of the players who were U20 eligible and we built from that into the four regional games. It has given me and the whole management team a much better platform to know the players better sooner and we’re really looking forward to getting back to preparations with this group.”
England U20 Elite Player Squad:
Ben Bamber (Bristol Bears)
Harvey Beaton (Saracens)
Phil Brantingham (Newcastle Falcons)
Lucas Brooke (London Irish)
Arthur Clark (Gloucester Rugby)
Jack Clement (Gloucester Rugby)
Luke Green (London Irish)
Alex Groves (Bristol Bears)
Lewis Holsey (Worcester Warriors)
Ethan Hunt (Gloucester Rugby)
Emeka Ilione (Leicester Tigers)
George Martin (Leicester Tigers)
Nahum Merigan (Bath Rugby)
Marcus Rhodes (London Irish)
Ewan Richards (Bath Rugby)
Sam Riley (Harlequins)
Ethan Staddon (Bath Rugby)
Freddie Thomas (Gloucester Rugby)
Charlie Atkinson (Wasps)
Seb Atkinson (Worcester Warriors)
Deago Bailey (Bristol Bears)
Orlando Bailey (Bath Rugby)
Oscar Beard (Harlequins)
Joe Carpenter (Sale Sharks)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints)
Will Joseph (London Irish)
Dan Lancaster (Leeds Tykes)
Tommy Mathews (Northampton Saints)
Raffi Quirke (Sale Sharks)
Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks)
Fin Smith (Worcester Warriors)
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers)