Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global
NZ NZ

England U20s explain their selection of Paris-based Junior Kpoku

By Liam Heagney
(Photo courtesy of Junior Kpoku's Instagram)

England boss Steve Borthwick had four Rugby World Cup players declared off limits to him for the 2024 Guinness Six Nations, but that red tape hasn’t applied at U20s level where Junior Kpoku will play for the English U20s in their championship opener despite being attached to Racing 92.

ADVERTISEMENT

Joe Marchant, Henry Arundell, David Ribbans and Jack Willis are all unavailable for Test level as they play for Top 14 clubs, but this senior-level restriction hasn’t affected the 18-year Kpoku who has been popping across the Channel this winter from Paris to win his place in Mark Mapletoft’s age-grade starting line-up.

The youthful giant – he tips the scales at 117kgs and is just shy of 6ft 7 – had started the season in England having joined Rob Baxter’s Exeter. He went there with his pals Toby Clinch, Louie Sinclair and Sol Moody after they had all attended Finborough, the school near Stowmarket that reached last year’s National U18s Cup semi-final.

Video Spacer

Stuart Lancaster on the mentors Henry Arundell has at Racing 92

Racing 92 coach Stuart Lancaster discusses the mentors young star Henry Arundell will have around him at the club, including Owen Farrell

Video Spacer

Stuart Lancaster on the mentors Henry Arundell has at Racing 92

Racing 92 coach Stuart Lancaster discusses the mentors young star Henry Arundell will have around him at the club, including Owen Farrell

Kpoku’s stay was short-lived, though, as he was soon packing his bags again to link up with the Racing espoirs in November. France, after all, is a special place for his family with eldest brother Joel starring at Lyon, the 2022 Challenge Cup winners, and Jonathan attached to the nearby Bourgoin.

Junior was part of the Saracens academy when Joel referenced him in a November 2022 interview at RugbyPass, suggesting he too would likely adopt a wanderlust approach to making his career successful. “I have got a younger brother Junior who is at Sarries now, under 17s,” said Joel at the time.

Fixture
U20 Six Nations
Italy U20
11 - 36
Full-time
England U20
All Stats and Data

“Bigger than me believe it or not. I hate standing next to him. I was with him a couple of weeks ago at his school, Finborough down near Ipswich, and he is massive, a tall fella who has put on some size as well.

“He is another we are hoping can kind of go down his own route and do the best in his own career rather than saying, ‘I’m Joel and Jonathan’s brother and I want to be a rugby player because they are’. He has got his head screwed on and knows what he wants.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It was Wednesday, the evening before England travelled to Treviso for this Friday’s U20s championship opener, when age-grade coach Mapletoft shed more light on the latest cab off the Kpoku rank.

Asked by RugbyPass to explain why he remains an integral part of the England system despite his club move to France, Mapletoft said: “Junior was part of the academy programme when he was at Saracens and then he was part of the programme when he was at Exeter.

“He has played for the U18s, he played stand-alone fixtures last year, he played in the Six Nations, he travelled out to South Africa with the U18s – he has been an integral part of the England academy pathway, let alone the club pathway for two or three years now and whenever he has come in he has delivered good performances.

“He is ticking many boxes in the positional characteristics we look for in a lock and our view is it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you are playing well you are good enough to get a go.

ADVERTISEMENT

“For him and Olamide (Sodeke) pairing up together, they know each other from their Saracens time and both 18, incredible really, big huge lads and you need a bit of bulk in the second row these days.

“He has been playing espoirs over there. We all know Stuart (Lancaster) is over there and we all know Stuart well, we have a good, personal relationship with Stuart, very supportive. Yannick Nyanga runs their espoirs and he is a direct point of contact with us with Junior and again he has been hugely supportive.

“His performances in the espoirs have been outstanding. He was particularly good against Bordeaux; he has come over here and has played against Bath, played against Oxford and he has got the run this weekend so looking forward to see how he goes.”

How similar a player is Junior to eldest brother Joel? “I wouldn’t know necessarily,” said Mapletoft. “I haven’t spent an awful lot of time in the pathway with Joel. I have obviously seen him playing for Lyon recently in the Champions Cup; I’m not sure, to be honest. I didn’t know Joel at the same age.

“I know Junior, we spent a lot of time together over the last 18 months in the programme, great kid, all the attributes you want in a modern-day lock. We have presented him with an opportunity and I hope he grasps it.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Join free

LIVE

{{item.title}}

Trending on RugbyPass

Comments

0 Comments
Be the first to comment...

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free
ADVERTISEMENT

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

TRENDING
TRENDING Eddie Jones pinpoints the time it all went wrong with England Eddie Jones pinpoints the time it all went wrong with England
Search