After having fallen just short of the title last season – missing out to France on points difference – England have been given a valuable boost heading into the 2019 U20 Six Nations.
With the Gallagher Premiership season having been restructured for 2018/19, the presence of the Premiership Cup over the next two weeks allows a number of teams the opportunity to rest front-line players, as well as giving England an opportunity to start the U20 campaign with a full-strength side.
Only six of the Premiership sides are in action this weekend, before the semi-finals take place the following week, and that has given England full access to the EPS for the first week of the competition.
? SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT ?
Here's your England U20 team to face Ireland U20 in Cork on Friday night ?
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 30, 2019
Up front, England have selected Olly Adkins, Nic Dolly and Marcus Street, with the Exeter Chiefs tighthead returning for a third year, this time with club rugby experience under his belt. Both Kai Owen and Will Capon were ruled out with injury.
One of last year’s standouts in the World Rugby U20 Championship, Joel Kpoku takes up his spot alongside Alex Coles in the engine room, with Kpoku another to have considerable experience at club level, as well as involvement in a training camp with the senior England side.
The inclusion of Ted Hill in the back row is a milestone, with the Worcester flanker the first senior England international to turn out for the U20s after having made his debut at Test level. Both Nick Isiekwe and Tom Curry received senior England caps whilst still U20-eligible, but neither player represented the U20s after earning those first caps.
Hill is joined in the back row by Aaron Hinkley and Tom Willis, where both Josh Basham and James Dun are unavailable through injury. Again, both Hinkley and Willis have Premiership experience and both players return for second years, having taken part in the U20 Six Nations and World Rugby U20 Championship in 2018.
In the half-backs, Sam Maunder starts at nine, filling the position vacated by his older brother Jack two years ago, where he is joined by Harlequins’ Marcus Smith. With roughly a season and a half of senior Premiership and European rugby, not to mention multiple senior England training camps, Smith is the most experienced player in the group. He is set to pass the 50-appearance mark for Quins in the coming weeks.
The midfield is congested for England this season, but Tom Hardwick and Fraser Dingwall have done enough to making the starting combination for the opening week. Both players have impressed domestically so far this season, with Dingwall regularly flirting with the starting role at outside centre at Northampton Saints in both the Premiership and Europe.
In the back three, Cadan Murley starts on the left wing, after having made his way into Harlequins’ senior plans this season, scoring tries in both the Premiership and Challenge Cup. He lines up opposite Ollie Sleightholme, with the Northampton wing bagging seven tries in seven appearances for the club, in just his first year out of school. At full-back, Newcastle Falcons‘ Josh Hodge takes his opportunity.
Finally, Ben Atkins, Bevan Rodd, Joe Heyes, James Scott and Rus Tuima make up the forward replacements, with Ollie Fox, Cam Redpath and Ollie Lawrence the back line options. Both Heyes and Lawrence boast considerable Premiership and European experience, whilst Redpath continues his rehabilitation from an ACL reconstruction.
Watch: Six Nations preview – England
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