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England U20s' Henry Pollock: 'Brotherhood aspect has been thriving'

By Liam Heagney
England U20s back-rower Henry Pollock (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Henry Pollock is living the dream. A Gallagher Premiership debut for boyhood club Northampton in the East Midlands derby? Check. Some Championship gametime at Bedford to keep things ticking along over winter? England U20s back row selection? The chance of an age-grade Six Nations title win this Friday night in France? Check, check, and check again.


It’s gone swimmingly for the youngster who only turned 19 in January, but he certainly isn’t the type to get carried away. Public self-criticism is something rugby players generally tend to shy away from. Not Pollock.

Asked by RugbyPass to explain how different a player he is for the experience of featuring in his maiden U20s championship, a campaign that started with a round one hat-trick away to Italy, and his reply wasn’t afraid of mixing the good with the bad.

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Joel Kpoku on life in the very physical French Top 14

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Joel Kpoku on life in the very physical French Top 14

“I have definitely grown over the tournament,” he said. “After the first two games, I personally got a little bit complacent with my performance, so I’m looking to this Friday night to try and back them up and just play really well and get the win for the team. I have definitely learned a lot over this six-, seven-week period and I have been really enjoying it.”

A little bit complacent? Explain yourself. “After my two performances against Italy and Wales, I didn’t really go back to basics and was just trying to force my way into games and not really doing what I do normally.

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“I have had some good reviews, good messages from coaches and I am really excited for this Friday. To put on the jersey is a special occasion, especially in France. It’s going to be amazing.”

With last Friday’s epic encounter with Ireland ending all-square in Bath, England go into the final series of matches one point ahead of the Irish on the table.


However, Mark Mapletoft’s side are away in Pau to France, the reigning Junior World Championship champions, while Six Nations title holders Ireland host winless Scotland in Cork.

It’s a situation that leaves the English with everything still to do, but Pollock can’t knock the preparations. “The vibe in camp is really good. Everyone knows what we need to do.

“We spoke on Monday about the previous Friday night and the things we need to fix up from what we did against Ireland. The boys are really excited for this weekend.

“It would be amazing (to win the title). This group has done so well from the first warm-up games and the way we have built through.


“There are a lot of young guys, lots of guys in the year who will have two years (at U20s), so the experience they will get in this championship is amazing.

“And look, if we can do the job on Friday night then that’s great and we’ll celebrate really well and it’s been deserved. If not, then we can only control what we can control so we are just trying to prepare as best we can and hopefully do a job on Friday night but we are not thinking too much ahead, it’s just another game of rugby.”

Team spirit should serve England well. It can’t be an easy task to gel a squad with origins from wide and far – Friday’s match day 23 contains representatives from all 10 Premiership clubs as well as the Top 14’s Racing and the National One Rams. Yet, somehow Mapletoft’s team is unbeaten and hoping to win their first U20s title since 2021.

“We spoke about it back at our first camp in Portugal just about the brotherhood thing,” explained Pollock. “We said if we are really tight as a group and everyone is really comfortable in the environment then that gets the best out of you.

“We do different activities on an afternoon basis to kind of gel that. Wednesday afternoons we go out for dinner and stuff like that, kind of change the scenery, and then we have things called dice rolls in the evenings where you get a bit of stick with your mates.

“The brotherhood aspect has been amazing here. Personally coming in a year below the older boys has been really helpful. I can say probably on behalf of all the younger lads that the older lads have been really helpful.

“It was nerve-wracking making your first start in Italy and all the boys were really helpful. The brotherhood aspect has been thriving in this environment and we are trying to take it into Friday night.”


Pollock isn’t sure where he will finish out the 2023/24 season, with parent club Northampton or back on loan with Bedford. He doesn’t mind what happens but by the time we see him again later this year in an England shirt at the World Cup in South Africa, he might be a couple of kilos heavier.

“I fluctuate between 100 and 102kgs but I’m currently 101. We have had some conversations, I have definitely had conversations with nutritionists from Saints and England. It’s not a huge problem what I need to focus on but it’s definitely something that I have got in the back of my head thinking about eating enough.

“Saints want me a bit heavier to be able to take the impacts that first-team rugby goes with. Just having really good conversations with lots of different people has been really helpful. I’m just slowly trying to implement it. It has been good.”

Positive too has been the growth in Pollock’s experiences. “I took a lot for various games I played in. The Prem debut was a surreal experience. Making my Prem debut for my boyhood club was special and having that in an East Midlands derby was even specialer.

“And then the Bedford stuff was really good for me to get some game time. Some lads at our age struggle for game time and I was very lucky that Bedford took me. It’s a similar system to what Saints play, so I was really fortunate to play there.

“It was good just going from different environments, going from the Saints and then to Bedford and now with the 20s. I’m just trying to be like a sponge and absorb as much information as I can from different players.”

Young guns like Pollock know the potential to quickly accelerate up the rep ladder genuinely exists. Fellow back-rower Chandler Cunningham-South went from playing in the U20s third-place play-off last July to making his England Test debut in Italy just seven months later.

“It gives you bits of confidence what Chandler did coming out of the World Cup and he then goes straight into the first-team environment. It’s really positive and the way he has gone gives everyone in the camp a boost in confidence that we are not actually that far away from that level.

“But again, we have been saying if you get too complacent and you don’t work on the basics and you think too far ahead, then you are never going to be as good as you are. Chandler doing that has given the whole group a massive boost of confidence.”

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1 Comment
finn 130 days ago

I think Pollock could be a few years away from being the best openside in the world - but at present he’s not quite defensively sound enough.

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