Ten years on from the inaugural Junior World Championship and the advent of the U20 classification in rugby, many of England’s class of 2008 should be in the primes of their careers.
England impressed throughout the tournament, beating Australia, Canada and Fiji in the group stage and South Africa in the semi-final, but New Zealand in the final was a bridge too far for them, where they fell to a comprehensive 38-3 defeat.
That Baby Blacks side included talents such as Ryan Crotty, Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith, but who made up their English counterparts that day and where are they now?
We took a look.
- Noah Cato
Cato was highly thought of coming out of the Saracens academy and had already played multiple times for the senior side in the Premiership before heading off to the JWC with England. He enjoyed a fair amount of success at Saracens and represented England at the Saxons level, but fruitless spells with Northampton Saints and Newcastle Falcons followed his departure from north London in 2011. He currently turns out for Wimbledon RFC in National League 2 South.
- Mark Odejobi
Odejobi was unfortunately never able to make the breakthrough at London Wasps that Cato did at Saracens. He left the club in 2011 and went on to play for both Esher and the England 7s team, before deciding to retire in 2014 at the age of 26. He currently works in the finance sector, after having earned a 1st class honours degree in Mathematics with Computer Science from Brunel University.
- Luke Eves
The son of former Bristol captain Derek Eves, Luke amassed over 100 appearances for Bristol in two spells at the club. He also went on to spend two seasons with the Newcastle Falcons and currently represents Hartpury College in the Greene King IPA Championship.
- Jordan Turner-Hall
Turner-Hall’s career was unfortunately cut short in 2015 when injuries forced him into retirement at the age of 27. He spent his entire career with Harlequins, having made his debut for the senior side as a 17-year-old in the season Quins were relegated, and went on to become one of the club’s most potent attacking weapons during their period atop the Premiership. He also won two England caps back in 2012.
- Miles Benjamin
Benjamin, too, was forced to retire from rugby at the age of 27, after spells with both Worcester Warriors and Leicester Tigers. He was a prolific try scorer for Worcester but unfortunately injuries had begun to take their toll by the time he arrived at Leicester and the number of appearances he made at Welford Road was limited as a result. Like Cato, Benjamin also progressed on to the England Saxons side, representing them multiple times between 2010 and 2016.
- Alex Goode
Unarguably the biggest success story of this back-line, Goode has gone on to feature for England 21 times, as well as making over 200 appearances for Saracens and picking up multiple domestic and European titles on the way. He remains a key component in Saracens’ first XV and is regularly championed as a player that Eddie Jones should include in his England squads.
- Joe Simpson
A bright career at Wasps has been semi-derailed by the emergence of Dan Robson, but Simpson is still a valuable contributor at the highest club level. Although rumours persist that he is leaving the club this summer, he has spent his entire career at Wasps, making over 220 appearances in the process and helping them through one of the darkest periods in their history. He also has an England cap to his name, with his sole appearance to date coming as a replacement against Georgia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
- Nathan Catt
Another player who has faced a career beset by injuries but one who is still chugging along in the Premiership for Bath. Those injuries have limited Catt to just over 100 appearances for the club and denied him a shot at an England cap, but when fit, there are few more effective than him in the Premiership. Catt joins Cato and Benjamin in the England Saxons club, though, having featured for them in 2009 against Portugal.
- Joe Gray
After coming through their academy, opportunities were sparse for Gray at Northampton Saints with Dylan Hartley around, so the promising hooker made the move to Harlequins and has forged an impressive club career. Since heading to west London in 2010, Gray has made just shy of 150 appearances for the club and was an important part of their title-winning squad.
- Alex Corbisiero
Perhaps the unluckiest member of this squad, Cobisiero is another forced out of the game due to injuries, but not before earning representation at every possible level. Domestically, he impressed for both London Irish and Northampton Saints, he played extensively for the England U20s and Saxons sides, won 31 caps with England seniors and reached the pinnacle of northern hemisphere rugby, representing the British and Irish Lions out in Australia in 2013. Corbisiero hung up his boots in 2016 and is currently working in the US as part of the NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premiership.
- Ben Thomas
Thomas was the original lock tipped for stardom out of the Saracens academy, before the likes of Maro itoje, George Kruis and Nick Isiekwe made it the en vogue thing. Unfortunately for Thomas, his career didn’t take the same trajectory as those of his successors. Thomas spent some time with London Welsh, London Scottish and Barking earlier in his career, before spells at Rotherham Titans and Coventry RFC in more recent seasons.
- Gregor Gillanders
Gillanders couldn’t quite make the breakthrough into the Leicester Tigers senior squad but enjoyed a productive career with both Bedford Blues and London Scottish. He is currently a Graduate Engineer with the Waterman Group, although he still features for London Scottish in the Championship.
- Jon Fisher
Fisher’s career has seen him have two stints at London Irish, as well as representing Bedford Blues, Northampton Saints and Bristol. Like several others in this XV, he also represented the Saxons, featuring in the 2009 fixture against Portugal. He left Bristol last year to pursue his coaching career and he is currently working in the London Irish academy, the same academy that he graduated from 11 years ago.
- Calum Clark
Clark’s career has been a rollercoaster ride to date, having faced the lows of serial injuries and several suspensions, but despite that he has forged a successful Premiership career. He featured 70 times for Yorkshire Carnegie, before embarking on a seven-year stint at Northampton, making nearly 150 appearances and forming a key part of their 2013-14 title-winning side. Adding to the solitary England cap he won in 2015 may now seem a long shot, but having moved to Saracens last summer, it would take a brave man to bet against Clark adding more silverware to his trophy cabinet.
- Hugo Ellis
Ellis captained the U20 side in 2008 and was seen by many at London Wasps as the next big thing in their vaunted back-row. It never quite worked out for Ellis at the highest level, despite a smattering of appearances for both Wasps and Newport Gwent Dragons, but he has been a key part of the Rosslyn Park squad in National League 1 since 2012.
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