On New Year’s Day England announced their 2021 U20 Elite Player Squad, the group that will form the basis of Head Coach Alan Dickens’ teams for the U20 Six Nations and the World Rugby U20 Championships, should they go ahead.
Assuming that things go to plan, the tournament should begin in just under a month on the weekend of the 6thFebruary. With that in mind, we thought it was worth taking a closer look at a few of the players in the squad that we think are worth keeping an eye on through the tournament.
We have picked out three forwards and three backs, a few of the names might be familiar to the wider rugby public, and a few you will have to really know your youth rugby to know, but all six have a fantastic chance of long and exciting careers that could see them become household names.
6 England U20s to Watch
Jack Clement (Gloucester, back row)
The tail end of the strange season that was 2019/20 really saw Clement start to shine, so much so that the Gloucester youngster ended up getting called in to Eddie Jones’ England squad in October. That, plus his experience for Gloucester, makes the former Cheltenham College star a key figure in this England U20s group and he will likely be expected to be a key leader having had that senior experience. His powerful work on either side of the ball marks him out as a player to watch, and his energy and enthusiasm are there for all to see.
Emeka Ilione (Leicester Tigers, back row)
Ilione was one of the England U18 captains in their 2019 tour of South Africa and highlights from that tour show just what a dominant impact he had. Six months out from Rugby School he is now at Leicester Tigers and is likely to soon start becoming a fixture there in matchday squads. He picked up a hamstring injury during Phase 2 of return to play, but is now fit and ready again and likely to be a key player in this England U20 side, just as he was for the U18s. As if his rugby talent was not enough, he is also studying for a degree in medicine, some just have it all!
George Martin (Leicester Tigers, lock)
Martin was a part of Leicester Tigers’ back to back unbeaten title winning sides in the U18 Academy League in 2017/18 and 2018/19, skippering the side in 2018/19 when at Brooksby Melton College and skippering England U18. Over the summer he made his debut for Tigers, and impressed enough to continue to be selected, however a knee ligament injury stopped him in his tracks, with this U20 Six Nations campaign likely to be his first full involvement since. Undoubtedly a star in the making, there were even rumours prior to his injury that Eddie Jones was looking at including him in his senior squads over the Autumn.
Charlie Atkinson (Wasps, Fly Half)
In an absurdly brilliant group of U18 fly halves last year, it is Atkinson that has burst onto the senior scene first, and boy has he burst on. Within weeks of finishing school he was already being moved straight into the Wasps senior squad and shortly after made his debut. Then came the infamous tackle on him by England captain Owen Farrell, knocking Atkinson out and forcing him to miss a few games. That put his name in the headlines, but since then those headlines have all been about the quality of his performances as he has strung together some outstanding games. At just 19 years old he is starting to look like a Premiership stalwart and the former Abingdon School star is going to be one of the joys to watch in this U20 Six Nations campaign.
Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks, centre/wing)
Roebuck made his senior debut for Sale Sharks way back in October 2018 and is a stalwart of the England U20 setup having gained four caps last year. He has gone on to make several appearances for the first team, indeed he is starting on the right wing against Worcester Warriors this weekend, and is starting to become a fixture in the first team squad. Capable of playing both on the wing and at centre, he is sure to be a vital player for this England U20 side, as the former Wirral Grammar School man has been for every side he has been a part of. With significant first team experience, like Atkinson, Clement, and Martin, his leadership in the group is going to be crucial, too.
Fin Smith (Worcester Warriors, Fly Half)
Remember the absurdly brilliant group of U18 fly halves last year? Well, Smith sums that up. By the end of the 2019/20 school season he had become rated by many as the top fly half prospect in the country and his tussle for the 10 shirt with Atkinson was expected to be one of the most exciting bits of competition for places in the England squad at the U18 Six Nations Festival. However Covid-19 got in the way of that so, almost a year later, the U20 Six Nations is our chance to see that competition. Like Atkinson, he is a joyous player to watch and if he gets an opportunity to link up with Worcester Warriors teammate Seb Atkinson, who plays at 12, then fireworks really could begin to happen. Undoubtedly this England U20 group is blessed with unbelievable talent at fly half, with Bath’s Orlando Bailey and Northampton Saints’ Tommy Matthews both in the squad too, while Elliot Gourlay, Tom Wilsted, and Harry Glynn are all outside the group. Extraordinary depth.
Which of these six are you most excited about for the future? Let us know below!