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England U20s player review

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England U20s: 2019 Player-by-player review

It won’t go down as one of the stellar seasons for the England U20s, with the group finishing third in the U20 Six Nations and 5th in the World Rugby U20 Championship, but that doesn’t mean it was without its positives.

The pathway, after all, is about preparing individuals for the next steps in their careers and making sure that those high-potential players have an opportunity at fast-tracking their development and using the age-grade side as a springboard to senior success.

We took a look at each individual player’s performances this season, what the outlook is for them in 2019/20 and whether or not they will be back for another season in the U20s.

Props

Olly Adkins, Gloucester

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: James Whitcombe

After featuring for the Gloucester senior side early in his first year as a professional, Adkins went solidly in the Six Nations, before building on that with some impressive displays in Argentina. Patience is a virtue with young props, although Adkins will have done his chances of playing senior club rugby good with this age-grade campaign. Whitcombe was the standout loosehead in the U18s this season and is building on that with a short stint at Sydney University this summer.

Joe Heyes, Leicester Tigers

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Jack Bartlett

Heyes has bucked the trend for young front rowers, regularly featuring for Leicester over the past season. His maturity and physicality showed up well in Argentina and he helped anchor a scrum that was consistently effective in the Championship. Bartlett featured a few times for England during the Six Nations and should play a more significant role next season.

England U20s

Joe Heyes celebrates after scoring a try against Wales. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

James Kenny, Exeter Chiefs

Not eligible in 2019/20

Kenny was called up as injury cover for Marcus Street and like Adkins and Heyes, acquitted himself well in the opportunities he got. With Exeter losing plenty of props to international duty, Kenny’s chances of featuring next season are relatively good, particularly early in the campaign with players still returning from the Rugby World Cup.

Kai Owen, Worcester Warriors

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Bevan Rodd

The loosehead was another member of a front row which scrummaged well in the Six Nations and the U20 Championship. Playing time with Worcester could hinge on how their season is progressing, with Director of Rugby Alan Solomons unlikely to throw in a young prop if they are in the midst of a relegation battle. As for Rodd, he featured briefly in the Six Nations and is one of the more impactful props in the loose you’ll find at this level.

Alfie Petch, Exeter Chiefs

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Harvey Beaton

Like Adkins, it’s just the one year at this level for Petch, thanks to both props having their birthday before January 1st. He contributed to a strong English scrum and is, remarkably, one of three props from Exeter in this group. He will likely be behind Street in the pecking order for playing time next season, though. Beaton has signed professional terms with Saracens this summer and will be the spearhead of the new-look England front row next season.

Marcus Street, Exeter Chiefs

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Jack Hughes

Unfortunately for Street, injury ended his three-year association with the England U20s before he could even get to Argentina. Assuming he is fit, Street has bided his time with Exeter and should be in line for minutes with Tomas Francis and Harry Williams likely to be at the Rugby World Cup. In Hughes, England would have a prop capable of covering both sides of the scrum, which is particularly valuable in this tournament.

Hookers

Alfie Barbeary, Wasps

Eligible in 2019/20

Barbeary offered excellent impact late in the Six Nations, before a rush of blood to the head prompted an unfortunate red card in his tournament opener in Argentina. Once his ban is served, he will be back for Wasps and England U20s. Assuming fitness and that he takes to professional rugby – having been a schoolboy this season – only being held back by his club or Eddie Jones is going to prevent Barbeary being involved next season.

Will Capon, Bristol Bears

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Ben Atkins

An injury-disrupted season nearly prevented Capon from his one shot at the England U20s, but after missing the Six Nations, he played well in Argentina. He established himself as the number one option for England during the tournament and, lineout issues against Ireland aside, won’t have hurt his chances for senior playing time under Pat Lam next season. Atkins filled in well during the Six Nations and should feature again.

Will Capon

Will Capon scores try against Wales in Rosario. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

Nic Dolly, Sale Sharks

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Sam Riley

Dolly had a strong Six Nations and was the first-choice hooker through the competition, before Capon took over in Argentina. Sale have been productive giving opportunities to younger players in the back row and back line, but the tight five has seen fewer academy products go into rotation of late and the arrival of Akker van der Merwe won’t help. Riley wasn’t too far off Barbeary in the U18s this season and is yet another talented prospect at a position England are regularly producing at.

Samson Ma’asi, Northampton Saints

Eligible in 2019/20

With Barbeary, Atkins and Ma’asi all coming back for another year, there will be a familiarity to the hooker group next season. Ma’asi was particularly impressive at the end of the Six Nations, before injury ruled him out of the U20 Championship. Could Saints look to increase his role, with Dylan Hartley and Mike Haywood having struggled with injury? It’s possible.

Locks

Josh Basham, Newcastle Falcons

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Chunya Munga

Leaving London Irish to study at Durham University, as well as a switch to Newcastle, disrupted Basham’s season somewhat and arguably didn’t let him make as much of an impression as he did in 2017/18. Newcastle are lock-needy, though, with a number of senior players having departed this summer, potentially paving the way for Basham to feature in the Greene King IPA Championship. Munga follows in Basham’s footsteps as a London Irish academy prospect and will bring lineout ability to England’s stable of returning hookers.

Richard Capstick, Exeter Chiefs

Eligible in 2019/20

A strong season at age-grade level for Capstick, who also made his senior debut for Exeter. Don’t expect the minutes to jump up at Exeter next season given their squad depth, but he will be one of the focal points and leaders in the England U20s in their next campaign.

Alex Coles, Northampton Saints

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Hugh Tizard

Just the one year in the England U20s for Coles due to his earlier birthday, although with a back injury having wiped out his final U18 season, the lock made the most of this opportunity. He established himself as a first-choice option alongside Joel Kpoku and that engine room pairing was one of the highlights for England this season. Chris Boyd tends to give youth a go, so don’t be surprised to see him involved next season at Saints. Tizard was a standout in the England U19 test against Wales earlier this year and should step up for 2019/20.

Joel Kpoku, Saracens

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: George Martin

Few players have been as consistent over the past two seasons as Kpoku and his stock at Saracens has surely benefitted as a result. He went well in the Six Nations and in Argentina and if there are minutes going spare next season as Maro Itoje and George Kruis are managed following the RWC, Kpoku should be in a strong place to take them. In Martin, England would replace some of the physicality that they are losing in Kpoku this summer.

England U20s

Joel Kpoku hands off Harri Morgan during a 5th place play-off match between England U20 and Wales U20 as part of World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 at Racecourse Stadium. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

Back rowers

Ted Hill, Worcester Warriors

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Jack Clement

A senior England international, Hill was understandably impressive in the U20s this season, particularly in Argentina, where club duty didn’t impact his time with the group. Not only will he be looking at further opportunities with Worcester next season, he’ll also be eyeing up further senior England caps. Clement is a versatile back rower coming out of the Gloucester U18s this summer and will bring energy and carrying ability to the mix.

Aaron Hinkley, Gloucester

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Fin Rossiter

The Gloucester openside had a very impressive Six Nations and showed the leap he had made from his first year with the group. He wasn’t quite as effective in Argentina, although part of that is that England controlled possession better in the Championship, denying him as many opportunities to win turnovers. A year learning from and spelling Jaco Kriel in the rotation could see Hinkley take the next step in 2019/20. Rossiter missed his U18 campaign with an injury picked up a couple of weeks before the beginning of the academy season, although he is arguably the pick of the opensides stepping into senior rugby this summer.

Rus Tuima, Exeter Chiefs

Eligible in 2019/20

Another year of being a professional should help Tuima, who had his moments this season, although it was clear he is still filling out and hasn’t quite been able to use his size to maximum effect at this level yet. With that physical growth and increased experience, Tuima could be one of the stars of this team next season, although expect Exeter to continue to be patient.

Tom Willis, Wasps

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Izaiha Moore-Aiono

Not used quite as prolifically in Argentina as he was in the Six Nations, it was still a good campaign for Willis. He was strong across the board and won’t have hurt his chances of featuring for Wasps next season. Wasps have been very conservative in their approach to bringing through youngsters in recent years, although Willis and Barbeary could help change that mindset. As for Moore-Aiono, he was another impressive performer in fleeting opportunities this season and should be one of the first names on the teamsheet in 2019/20.

Tom Willis tracks down Irishman Ronan Watters at the Club de Rugby Ateneo Inmaculada. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

Scrum-halves

Ollie Fox, Bath

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Raffi Quirke

It was a tough tournament for Fox in Argentina, who made a few crucial mistakes in the opening game against Ireland, before then finding himself backing up Sam Maunder for the rest of the competition. He’ll be competing with a talented group of scrum-halves at Bath next season in Will Chudley, Chris Cook and Max Green, but playing time should come in the Premiership Shield and Cup competitions. Quirke headlines an exciting group of U18 scrum-halves going pro this summer, possibly the best English rugby has seen for a number of years.

Sam Maunder, Exeter Chiefs

Eligible in 2019/20

Maunder did well in Argentina, taking over from Fox as the go-to man, with the pair having rotated during the Six Nations. His older brother Jack and Stu Townsend stand in his way at club level, although a possible Wallabies call-up for Nic White could help create more opportunities next season. He should feature prominently for the England U20s again.

Fly-halves

Marcus Smith, Harlequins

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Will Haydon-Wood

Smith’s selection to play against the Barbarians – and then subsequent inclusion in a senior England training camp – meant that he was pulled out of the U20s before they even took off for Argentina. He went well in Six Nations, though, and like Hill, is looking at a very bright 2019/20 season at club and international levels. Haydon-Wood was one of the standout U18 fly-halves this past season and was another player to impress in the England U19s match against Wales.

Manu Vunipola, Saracens

Eligible in 2019/20

The younger cousin of Billy and Mako, Vunipola grew into the 10 jersey over the course of the season. Having initially played backup to Smith and Tom Hardwick, Vunipola took his opportunity in the former’s absence and made the fly-half position his own. He’ll be back for another season at this level and has already made his senior debut for Saracens.

Centres

Fraser Dingwall, Northampton Saints

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Harry Barlow

Dingwall shouldered the burden of captaincy well in Argentina and was one of the more consistent performers across the entire age-grade season. His defence sets him apart at this level and he’s already started to feature for Northampton, although competition from Rory Hutchinson and Matt Proctor will make appearances anything but easy to come by next season. In Barlow, England have a versatile centre who can also turn his hand to work in the back three if required.

Connor Doherty, Sale Sharks

Eligible in 2019/20

Sitting behind Dingwall and Ollie Lawrence was a tough, albeit understandable, situation for Doherty in 2018/19. His opportunities were consequently limited, but with another year of eligibility, he should get a chance at a sustained run in the team next season.

Cameron Repdath, Sale Sharks

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Max Ojomoh

Probably not the season Redpath would have wanted. He looked good in the Six Nations, following his rehab from an ACL reconstruction, whilst he had his moments in Argentina, too, but they were mitigated by him being found guilty of biting Ireland hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin. The centre will now miss the start of the 2019/20 season whilst serving the ban, although he is one of the brighter prospects in this group and should forge a significant role for himself at Sale. Ojomoh was arguably the standout inside centre at U18 level in 2018/19 and would bring plenty of incision to the England U20s midfield.

Back three

Tom de Glanville, Bath

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Tom Curtis

The Bath youngster went well in his time at full-back, although perhaps didn’t quite have the success that Vunipola did at fly-half, when asked to fill in following Smith’s absence. At 15, his counter-attacking and pitch vision served him well and it’s there where he may hope to see playing time for Bath later this year, as Anthony Watson likely heads to the Rugby World Cup. Curtis is a like-for-like replacement, capable of covering both 10 and 15, although he is more the natural fly-half, than full-back at this point.

The work of de Glanville linking the midfield with the wings from full-back was good in Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

Ollie Hassell-Collins, London Irish

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Jacob Morris

A late call-up due to his featuring in the final leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for England, Hassell-Collins didn’t really play too much of a role in Argentina. He will be eager to follow in Ben Loader’s footsteps and breakthrough at London Irish next season, although that won’t be easy with Waisake Naholo and Curtis Rona both arriving. Morris did well for the U20s this season, as well as impressing in the U19 fixture, so he could well take on a more prominent role in 2019/20.

Josh Hodge, Newcastle Falcons

Eligible in 2019/20

Perhaps the player to most boost their stock this season, Hodge had an excellent year. He was impressive in the Six Nations and built on that in Argentina, topping the U20 Championship points table. Whether at full-back or on the wing, Hodge was a consistent positive for England U20s this season and should have done his chances of featuring for Newcastle in the second tier the world of good.

Arron Reed, Sale Sharks

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Louis Lynagh

Injury curtailed Reed’s season in Argentina, whilst he had been in and out of the squad during the Six Nations. As a result, he didn’t necessarily boost his stock in the competition, but he is a player that Sale have used semi-regularly already in their senior squad, something which he will hope to build on next season. Predominately a full-back, Lynagh is also comfortable on the wing and is built in the same mould as a number of the versatile back three players that England have leant on at this level in recent years.

Tom Seabrook, Gloucester

Not eligible in 2019/20. Possible replacement: Freddie Steward

Possibly under-utilised in Argentina, with Hodge, de Glanville and Ollie Sleightholme the favoured starting three, Seabrook was solid in the playing time he got. Like Reed, he’s been beginning to force his way into contention at club level and he could have a bigger role under Johan Ackermann next season, although Gloucester are one of the clubs to be looking at minimal back line losses for the Rugby World Cup. Steward was a class apart at 15 in the U18 league this season and he is capable of coming in and challenging Hodge and Lynagh for the spot.

Ollie Sleightholme, Northampton Saints

Eligible in 2019/20

As one finisher in Chris Ashton potentially closes the book on his international career, English rugby may have found another in Sleightholme. In a topsy-turvy season for the England U20s as a team, Sleightholme was another who played consistently well and was regularly on the end of tries as he impressed with his speed, positioning and attacking instincts out wide. He and Hodge could well line up on the wings alongside either of the impressive full-back prospects, Lynagh or Steward, next season.

Watch: The Academy – Part Six

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England U20s: 2019 Player-by-player review