Stepping Up: Spotlight on U21 players in Round 11 of the Gallagher Premiership

In this series, we’ll be taking a look at U21 players that featured over the weekend in the Gallagher Premiership to get an idea of how they’re coping with stepping up into the pro game and who might break through as future star next season and beyond.

At the end of the season, we’ll discuss who will make it into our U21 Premiership XV as well as who might star in the upcoming U20 6 Nations and even break into the senior international game.

Sale vs Exeter

Bevan Rodd – Loosehead prop

Raffi Quirke – Scrum half

Sedbergh old boy Rodd was solid as usual in the scrum and managed to cross over from short range for his first Premiership try while ex St Ambrose College star Quirke came off the bench and kicked well to help keep Chiefs at bay and grind out a big win. Hooker Ewan Ashman unfortunately didn’t make it off the bench after starting the previous week.

Richard Capstick – Back row

Josh Hodge – Fullback

Josh Hodge, the former Sedbergh man, came under pressure from Sale throughout the game. With Chiefs being a man down for most of the match, there was very little space for the dangerous runner who did his best in tough circumstances. Capstick, once of Exeter College, worked hard in the tight and loose for Exeter but it wasn’t enough against Sale’s big 8-man pack.

Bristol vs Leicester

Ioan Lloyd – Fly half

Standing in for Callum Sheedy at 10 for the league leaders, Clifton College old boy Lloyd made good use of the talent outside of him to constantly keep the Leicester defence on their toes. Lloyd appeared at ease taking control throughout and also kicked both try conversions and a penalty for his side.

James Whitcombe – Loosehead prop

Cameron Henderson – Lock

Oliver Chessum – No 8

Jack Van Poortvliet – Scrum half

Dan Kelly – Inside centre

Leicester started 4 U21 players in Henderson (Strathallan), Chessum (Carre’s Grammar), Van Poortvliet (Oakham) and Kelly (Kirkham Grammar) with James Whitcombe, a Schools Plate winner with Woodhouse Grove, making his premiership debut off the bench. They were always going to be up against it versus the league leaders but their work rate in defence was excellent and Steve Borthwick can be encouraged by what he’s seen. 

Henderson apparently called the line outs and was a consistent presence in the loose on both sides of the ball. Chessum, playing slightly out of position at number 8, contributed to Tigers’ solid line out ball amongst other aspects. Van Poortvliet was energetic as ever but also showed a control to his game that should see him start more often at scrum half.

Newcastle vs Harlequins

Hugh Tizard – Lock

Louis Lynagh – Wing

Tizard started at lock, fronting up well in defence and showed some nice hands and quick thinking, plucked straight from his time as a Rosslyn Park 7s winner with Cranleigh, to assist a try for Stephan Lewies. With just under 20 minutes to go, the former Hampton skipper Lynagh came off the bench. He unfortunately didn’t get many chances to show his talent but had one nice break down the left wing.

Wasps vs London Irish

Ben Donnell – Back row

Despite being named at 7, Donnell (once of Peter Symonds’ College like Joe Marchant and Mike Brown) packed down on the blindside of the scrum for Irish and played the full 80 there – getting through a lot of work on defence and contributing as a line out jumper as well.

In a tight game, unfortunately neither Charlie Atkinson (Abingdon) nor Will Joseph (Millfield) made it off the bench.

Gloucester vs Worcester

Jack Clement – Back row

George Barton – Fly half

Barton, once of Dean Close, looked assured coming off the bench, both in his distribution and with the boot, despite being down a player for much of his time on the pitch. Former Cheltenham College back row Jack Clement showed some abrasiveness in defence in the dying minutes as Worcester were pushing to get something out of the game.

Fin Smith – Fly half

Smith unfortunately didn’t get much of a chance to get his hands on the ball in attack but should be proud to have made his debut, last year’s Warwick School star becoming the 2nd youngest Warriors player ever.

Northampton vs Bath

Tommy Freeman – Fullback

Ollie Sleightholme – Wing

Tommy Freeman started at fullback and fitted into the Saints attack nicely in the first half, finishing off a slick move out wide, the former Moulton College man is in fine form. Sleightholme, an ex Northampton School for Boys pupil, entered with just over 10 minutes to go as Bath piled on the pressure. He contributed with a key try saving tackle on Staddon to keep them in it until the end.

Ewan Richards – Lock

Ethan Staddon – Back row

Staddon came on earlier than expected after Josh Bayliss left the field after half an hour. The former Beechen Cliff flanker fitted in seamlessly in a breathless affair, tackling hard in defence and offering a line out option in place of Bayliss as well. Still just 18 years old, he is surely one of the brightest prospects in the country. Ewan Richards, like Bayliss a former Millfield star, also came off the bench with 10 minutes to go and helped Bath see out a big win.

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