Tobias Elliott Exclusive: ‘This year has been pretty surreal to me’

It was England U20s head coach Alan Dickens that prompted Tobias Elliott's move to the wing
©RFU Collection via JMP

So far in this U20 Six Nations, England wing Tobias Elliott has crossed the whitewash three times. His contributions have helped send his side to the top of the tournament table with just two games left to play.

Up next are France. Playing at Bath’s Recreation Ground, over 10,000 supporters will be cheering on England as they look to set up a winner takes all clash with Ireland next weekend at Musgrave Park.

Elliott has been amongst a number of stars to emerge for England in this campaign. Impressing across the board, the 19-year-old’s back three partners Josh Hathaway and Sam Harris have also shone as have the likes of Rekeiti Ma’asi-White and their captain, Lewis Chessum.

Still in his first season as a professional, Elliott has made clear strides. Four appearances for his club side, Saracens, have all come as a starter while for England, the teenager has been asked to shift from his regular full-back berth to the wing.

Playing in a frankly electric backline with a dominant forward pack, that change has come with relative ease for Elliott.

“Having that conversation with Dicko [Alan Dickens, England U20 head coach] was a bit of a shock to me at first because I never thought of myself as a winger before,” Elliott said.

“Looking back on it, having a few discussions with coaches back at Sarries and close family friends, I am not really too fussed about position.

“I have always been lucky with the coaching I have had growing up, just being taught a variety of skills that I have linked into playing all different positions and luckily those skills have paid off and allowed me to play on the wing which I have enjoyed in this campaign.”

So far this season, Elliott’s versatility has been seen for Saracens. In his four games for the North Londoners, the former Berkhamsted schoolboy has played in three different positions.

Along with his familiar full-back mooring, Elliott has started once at fly-half and even at inside centre. That ability to switch roleS with relative ease is clearly something that his coaches see as valuable.

Elliott’s talent was noticeable from an early age. Just 13 when Saracens took an interest in him, he is now able to call himself a full-time player with his childhood club. Just months into his first season, it has been a rise which he can’t quite believe himself.

“This year has been pretty surreal to me, something I dreamed of as a kid,” Elliott said. “To finally step into that environment is something that took a bit of getting used to for me.

“I’ve been really lucky with playing time, especially at Sarries in the Prem Cup. Making my senior debut for Sarries was something I will treasure for a long, long time. Them trusting me to play in that was quite a big honour I thought.

“Obviously, by being selected for the England U20s stuff as well, that was always a goal going into this year and to be able to represent my country, it is really quite hard to put into words for me.”

Growing up, Elliott frequently visited the StoneX Stadium. Using a friend's season pass, he watched on as the side went on their infamous run of success and now he describes it as “odd” to call many of that same cast of characters his teammates.

It has been a term of immense growth as that leap from schoolboy rugby to the men’s game has been taken. A standout player coming into this debut season with Saracens, the 19-year-old believes that all of his experiences have contributed positively to his development.

“It is a massive step up,” Elliott said. “Playing in those Prem Cup games was quite a learning curve for a lot of boys. We had quite a young team and playing against some players that have played in the Premiership week in, week out, matching up against them was a good indicator to see where I was and see how I was matching up against them.

“One massive thing we can take away from it is the level. I know what is expected now and I find it a lot easier to work towards that level. Being at these U20s camps has really helped develop me as a player as well.”

To aid that adjustment from schoolboy rugby, Elliott has also found himself turning out for National Two East’s Old Albanian. It is a club well known to many at Saracens as OAs' facilities are used by the Gallagher Premiership outfit for their preparations.

“Playing in those games [for OA’s] was an opportunity to try and develop certain skills I was looking to improve,” Elliott said. “There is no better place to try and practice them and put them to the test. 

“I found that was a really good place to start. Coming into the season, I knew my weaknesses might have been physicality and getting stuck in a bit more, but I think playing men’s rugby and getting used to that has made me feel 10 times more confident this year with getting used to tackling fully grown men.

“It has definitely come with a lot of benefits, playing men’s rugby. To be honest, I am grateful to get any minutes. It is always a good thing.”

Naturally, thoughts begin to turn to Friday night’s task. First-place England will maintain pace at the head of the competition should they pick up a bonus point win over France (3rd) in Somerset, while their closest rivals, Ireland, travel to Scotland.

France are making headlines coming into the clash because they are boasting a Tuilagi in the second-row. Posolo Tuilagi is merely 18 and the son of former Leicester Tiger, Henry, but while the lock may be tender in years, he is just shy of 150kg and has 10 appearances for his club side, USA Perpignan, under his belt.

Tobias Elliott has scored a try in all three of England's U20 Six Nations matches so far
©RFU Collection via JMP

“This week we have really been focusing on ourselves and not worrying too much about what they have to offer,” Elliott said. “We know they are a tough, physical side that can play an expansive brand of rugby.

“This week we know that we have set our game plan out. I think if we can stick to that and execute it correctly, I think we’ll be alright. Feeling confident in our boys’ training this week, so it is just how we decide to execute on the night.”

England’s reasoning for focusing more on themselves is valid. After having quite a settled squad for these opening four games, Joe Jenkins will earn his first cap at outside centre, while Dickens has parachuted Rob Carmichael into a starting slot at lock.

Harlequins second-row Harry Browne is also likely to debut from the bench, while his teammate Cassius Cleaves will be hopeful of gaining his first appearance of this campaign after largely being on club duty.

As he mentioned earlier, pulling on an England U20s jersey this season was on Elliott’s list of objectives. After these championships, he will return to Saracens and compete for places in Mark McCall’s first team.

It will be a challenge, but after learning so much this season already and acquitting himself well at every given opportunity, there is certainly further motivation to succeed, although Elliott remains largely focused on the task at hand.

“After this U20s campaign we will see what happens,” he said. “If I am lucky enough to get any more game time for Sarries, that would be a bonus this year. 

“But I think achieving the U20s is definitely something good and I am happy I have ticked it off, but I think because there is still so much time left in the season, whatever happens next is a bonus and I think there will be a new challenge after this U20s campaign. 

“After this U20s campaign, I am going to get my head down, really focus on the next few weeks between the Six Nations and the [U20] World Cup, so whatever happens then I will be happy and honoured with. Really looking forward to that break in between and seeing what happens."