One year ago the England Under-20 side were commiserating after a 33-22 loss to New Zealand in the finals of the 2011 IRB Junior World Championships in Padua, Italy. This year they failed to make it to a similar stage after an exhilarating loss to the hosts, South Africa, in their final group game. Despite not enjoying the same success as a year ago, it does not mean there is a lack of talent in this team, and in fact many of them could go on to emulate their predecessors by earning call-ups to the senior squad.
England’s 2011 IRB Junior World Championship alumni include Owen Farrell, Christian Wade, Jonathan Joseph, Joe Launchbury, Matt Kvesic, Sam Jones, Elliot Daly and George Ford. Saracen’s Farrell has been an immediate success, establishing himself at the senior level for England, whilst Joseph, Wade and Launchbury have all been given their opportunities to shine with call-ups for England’s tour of South Africa this summer, although Launchbury had to later pull out due to injury. Although Daly, Jones, Kvesic and Ford have yet to represent the senior team, they have shined for their respective club sides in the Premiership and will see the England Saxons side as their path to full international honours over the coming years.
England’s fairly disappointing showing at the 2012 IRB Junior World Championships should be tempered with the knowledge that all of these players were unavailable for selection for the under-20’s, whether it be because of senior call-up, injury or their club being unwilling to release them, leaving the squad somewhat depleted. This therefore provided the perfect platform to give experience to England’s next generation of stars and examine who may be making waves in the Premiership next season.
Ryan Mills and Marlon Yarde, of Gloucester and London Irish respectively, carried on from their impressive 2011 IRB Junior World Championship and 2012 Under-20 Six Nations form and looked a step above most of their opposition. Mills’ physicality was apparent and his bullish runs often created space for England’s other backs, none less than Yarde, whose searing pace saw him make his way over the try line on several occasions.
Another back who shone at the championships, and didn’t have the tournament experience of Mills and Yarde was Bath’s Tom Heathcote. The young fly half distributed the ball well and was peerless with his accurate goal kicking. Although his defence may have been suspect at times, he certainly showed enough at the tournament to warrant extra game time for club side Bath next year and could force his way into Saxons’ contention over the next couple of seasons.
The front row was also an area of great strength for England, with both Luke Cowan-Dickie and Kyle Sinckler impressing throughout the championships. Exeter Chief Cowan-Dickie, despite looking slightly undersized to make an immediate impact at the senior level, displayed excellent scrummaging technique and consistently made ground with the ball in hand. Sinckler, who plays for Harlequins, demonstrated equal ability at both the scrum and with ball in hand, and perhaps already has the size to be able to push for a place behind both Joe Marler and James Johnston next season in the Premiership.
Both Billy Vunipola and Will Addison are also worth noting, despite them perhaps not performing as impressively as the other players mentioned at the IRB Junior World Championships. They both demonstrated huge potential last season for their Premiership clubs, Vunipola at London Wasps and Addison at Sale Sharks, and will be targeting even better campaigns in the 2012-13 season. If they are given the chance to continue their development at the top level, then places with the Saxons’ squad as early as next season are not beyond either of them.
England’s poor performance at this year’s championships is no real surprise given the amount of players who graduated from the age group in the last year, and their instant impact at the next level will be encouraging for England fans who should be pleased with the new generation of players being put together by Stuart Lancaster. Lancaster’s willingness to give young players a chance at the top level should bode well for many of the current Under-20’s. If they are given sufficient playing time at their Premiership clubs, both Mills and Yarde could be knocking on England’s door sooner rather than later, whilst Vunipola, Addison, Sinckler, Cowan-Dickie and Heathcote would probably struggle to make an enough of an impression to warrant a call-up to the full England side, a strong start to the season could see them make the Saxons’ squad, a step which should be the first of many on their ways to long and successful international careers.
Credit – Image SA