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Baby Boks v Lions Cubs XVs: Who would win?

By Angus Savage
(Photo by INPHO via The Lions)

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At the time of the squads being announced for the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, Next Generation XV decided to create their own hypothetical addition to the tour, U21 squads for each side, South Africa U21 and the British and Irish Lions ‘Cubs’.

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The rules were simple, players had to be U21 on the 1st January 2021, U18s and below were not eligible, and we had to pick squads that were broadly reflective in terms of size and positional make up to what would be picked in the real world.

In the videos embedded below, we named our Junior Springbok and Lions Cubs squads, and now as the decisive third and final Test of the series approaches, we name our match 23s for this hypothetical U21 series.

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It is a mark of just how much can change in rugby in a very short period of time, particularly for young players, that players such as Reinhard Ludwig and Jordan Hendrikse from South Africa and Chunya Munga and Fin Smith for the Lions did not make our initial squads and yet have since gone on to some extraordinary heights.

We have kept to our rules, though, and both the South African and Lions 23s must come from our original squads, beginning with South Africa.

South Africa U21 XV

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15) Richard Kriel (Blue Bulls)

Ever since his junior days Kriel has shown himself to be an exceptional footballer. Blessed with an immensely high rugby IQ he is somewhat of a magician often pulling off passes that defy belief.

We cannot think of anyone better as no doubt the Cubs would be using a tactical kicking game as have the Lions and Kriel possesses a safe pair of hands as well as a steady boot. Couple this with an ability to open up play and we believe we have a secret weapon that will cause the Cubs all sorts of problems.

14) Stravino Jacobs (Blue Bulls)

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Stravino burst onto the scene last year and made 2020 his own with some breath taking displays. A lethal finisher since his school days Jacobs scored tries for fun and the step up to senior level rugby did not bother him in the least.

A winner and key member of the Currie Cup squad we believe that with Jacobs Currie Cup experience and after a breakout 2020 he would be our man to take on the Cubs.

13) Henco van Wyk (Lions)

There can be only one! Not since Danie Gerber have we laid eyes on such a naturally talented centre, Henco ticks every box there is when it comes to the centre role yet brings so much more and in our opinion is on track to become a Springbok legend.

His detractors point to his size, we point to him taking down opponents twice his size with ease. His work at the breakdown makes you feel as if there is another loose forward on the field and his running lines are simply put the best on the planet when it comes to his peers. Henco would be a key player for our baby Boks and big call incoming – is the heir apparent to Lukhanyo Am.

12) Tyler Bocks (Lions)

The inside centre birth was a tough one to select but we are looking at this as a combination and with Bocks and Van Wyk both at the Lions and having formed a solid midfield partnership for the Under 20 series we forseee these two playing long into the future together.

Bocks brings defensive stability and eases the pressure off Henco who is allowed to focus on his creative strengths without worrying too much about defensive duties knowing that Tyler will take on whatever comes his way.

11) Ngia Selengbe (Lions)

Who knows if Selengbe would have qualified in time but one feels that had a series like this indeed taken place the process to secure his South African passport would surely have been expedited. Ngia is an absolutely lethal winger and is comfortable as a centre as well.

What Ngia has in spades is a killer instinct and an ability to be a match winner virtually by himself. He is deceptively strong and would no doubt add much physicality to the backline.

10) Kade Wolhuter (WP)

The sheer amount of depth that exists within the flyhalf department in South Africa has become frightening of late. With Jordan Hendrikse, FC du Plessis and Sacha Mngomezulu all having made their senior debuts and immense talents such as Compion von Ludwig, Jean Smith and Liam Koen waiting in the wings it must be a special flyhalf that is the gold standard and that special flyhalf is none other than Paul Roos old boy Kade Wolhuter.

Wolhuter was thrown into the deep end competing in a Green vs Gold battle that saw him run on the field, throw in a cross kick with pin point accuracy and then place a kick over from an awkward angle thus showing he had arrived. He will be kept on his toes with all the up and comers but playing under pressure is what Wolhuter thrives under, he would be a key part of the Baby Boks overcoming the threat of the Cubs.

9) Jaden Hendrikse (Sharks)

Jaden has been a special talent since his school days and during the 2019 World Championship he showed how special his ability is with some breathtaking performances that led to him being nominated as one of World Rugby’s junior players of the year while still an Under 19.

Junior Springboks squad

(Photo by Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images)

He has been a regular for the Sharks senior side and is currently competing with Springbok Sanele Nohamba for the number 9 birth, a battle one feels could be a dress rehearsal for the green and gold 9 jersey in the future, indeed he has already been drafted into the wider South Africa squad for Saturday’s decisive third Test. Keep a close eye on Jaden, rumour has it even legendary coach Jake White believes this player has the potential to be a 100+ cap Springbok.

1) Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Bulls)

While we understand much has been said about Wessels’ scrumming ability of late one must remember that he has come unstuck against countries that are well known for their incredible scrumming ability and of course we need to remember as well that he did improve as the series went on.

 

We believe that while he may be tested at scrum time Wessels would rise above it and improve as the series went on, what cannot be ignored is his ability in the loose, the physicality he brings to the game and the fact that he continually crosses the advantage line. He brings a dynamism to the role that can only help the Baby Bok cause, and if he struggles in scrum time there is plenty of backup for him in the bench.

2) Andre-Hugo Venter (WP)

Andre-Hugo has come on in leaps and bounds since we first saw him in action and is now the premier youth hooker in South African junior rugby.

His performances have been nothing short of sensational. Whether it has been at the Varsity Cup for Maties or for the Baby Boks in the recent international series Venter’s physicality, strength and never say die attitude make him the real deal and likely facing Alfie Barbeary we need a player who can nullify that young hookers strengths and we believe Venter would be the man for the job.

3) Hanro Jacobs (Sharks)

At 6 feet and 120kg Hanro is already the size of an international prop forward and has the power to boot.

A prodigy at school level Jacobs brutalized his opponents into submission with ease and may just be one of the best scrummagers we have seen at school rugby level. His ability in the scrum was evident back in 2019, with the Baby Boks on the back foot Hanro was bought on the field to take the fight to a massive Georgian pack and as a raw 19 year old duly delivered. No doubt modern games are won and lost up front, Hanro is our man to take on the cubs.

4) Emile van Heerden (Sharks)

As an Under 19 at the 2019 Under 20 World Champs Emile and JJ van der Mescht formed arguably the lock pairing of the tournament. Despite being so young Emile showed he had a steady head on his shoulders and matched his much vaunted physicality with workman like performances that put the entire community on notice.

The Sharks secured themselves a real gem here, his father Fritz was one of the most underrated players of his generation and seems that young Emile is on his way to joining his father in the Green and Gold.

5) Vincent Tshistuka (Lions)

Another case of would he or would he not qualify? Whatever happens South African rugby needs to get its act together and ensure the green and gold remains in the Vincent Tshistuka business.

The young Lions lock announced himself on the South African stage with some outstanding performances in last years Under 21 Championship having made our Dream Team of the tournament. His athletic ability was outstanding, his carrying immense and his line out work reminiscent of a young Victor Matfield. There doesn’t seen to be anything that can stop Vincent from becoming a world class lock forward in the future.

6) Sibu Sangweni (Lions)

Sangweni is another player whose talent has been evident since Junior school level. While Cronje and Roos give that famous Springbok grunt and physicality to the table Sangweni brings his immense speed and athleticism to our loose forward trio.

Sibu was a part of the Junior Springbok mix back in 2019 where the Baby Boks finished in 3rd place and no doubt he would relish the opportunity to showcase his skill against the Cubs.

7) George Cronje (Cheetahs) – captain

Cronje is a born rugby talent, hailing from Grey College where he led one of their greatest 1st XV’s he walked into the SA Schools setup and was among the top performers in the 2019 international series. After school he opted to take up opportunities in France but opted to return home. Despite many of the larger Unions being after him Cronje decided to head to the Cheetahs where he felt his development would be expedited, and it proved a wise decision.

A quiet and humble young man there were some surprises that a man who is not very vocal such as George was named Junior Springbok captain but it proved to be a master stroke by coach Bafana Nhleko. Cronje proved not only his immense playing potential but proved to be a resounding success as a captain and helped the team to a clean sweep in the recent international series. In our view, a future Springbok captain.

8) Evan Roos (WP)

Evan has had a meteoric rise since leaving school being named the Sharks Under 21 player of the year as an Under 19. He made his Senior debut that same year and all had fallen nicely into place for the young gun. However his form dipped slightly and after a difficult Under 21 tournament in 2020 where the Sharks underperformed there was questioning whether or not the Sharks and Roos were a good fit, the decision was ultimately made for a transfer to Western Province.

Since virtually the day he arrived he has been nothing short of world class, his performances have been stand out and despite only being 21 it is obvious he is the heir apparent to Duane Vermuelen’s Bok jersey. His work rate and humility set him apart and we have always been confident that he will one day become a household name.

Replacements:

16) Jacques Goosen (Sharks)

Goosen, SA Schools captain in 2019 has perhaps lost momentum more than most players due to injury and the pandemic, but with coach Nhleko’s genius move we believe that the Jacques Goosen story is far from over.

He makes our bench due to the fact he still remains a threat at hooker and is also able to cover the loose forward position where we believe his future is and we believe that Jacques will become a player in the same vein as Heinrich Brussouw once was.

17) Banele Mthejane (Lions)

Banele is known as the beast and what better nickname than a player likely to inherit the original Beast’s jersey one day?

Mthejane is one of only a few players to have played SA Schools two years running and is highly rated by those in the know, the Lions coaching staff in particular are massive admirers of Mthejane and it is not difficult to see why. An absolute unit who is a wrecking ball in the scrum he is no one trick pony with his work in the loose and his mobility seeing him all over the field of play, a better impact player would be hard to find.

18) Seb Lombard (Bulls)

The class of 2020 was extremely blessed in the tighthead department with Heiko Pohlmann, Phil Masango, Tielman Niewoudt and current Baby Bok Corne Weilbach among just a few names in that department.

For us when selecting our original squad it was a tussle between Pottie Weilbach and Seb Lombard but based on his dismantling of a strong Monnas scrum at the start of 2020 and being the only Grade 11 player in the 2019 team we gave Seb the edge. An incredibly strong scrummager Seb is serious about getting his academics out of the way before focusing on rugby but the foundations to become a leading international tighthead is there. Him, Jacques and Banele taking the field as impact players would not only give the Baby Boks a physical edge if the game needed to be tightened but if the team were to play catch up who better than this trio to chase down a score?

19) Simon Miller (WP)

Miller is a truly special player who is able to cover both the openside role as well as lock forward. This is why he reminds us so much of Pieter-Steph du Toit and while we believe the number 7 jersey is his to lose in the future in terms of this game the fact that he covers two positions we would have him on our bench giving us a tactical edge in the game.

20) Celimpilo Gumede (Sharks)

Mpilo was an outstanding prospect at youth level, the former DHS youngster was an inspiration school player who made it all look to easy. Gumede plays with a confidence that some may view as arrogance but it is far from the case, what you have here is a player who knows where he came from and how hard he worked to get to where he is.

Gumede is able to cover all loose forward positions and is no slouch as a lock, his impact off the bench would be immense and he would ensure that the Cubs would have their work cut out for them in the closing stages of the game.

21) Tom Bursey (WP)

When selecting our reserve scrum half we needed someone who would bring a similar style of play to Hendrikse, someone with a strong kicking pedigree yet someone who could making those sniping runs and open play up. To us Bursey brings all those qualities to the table and offers another goal kicking option as well.

22) Sacha Mngomezulu (WP)

Who else? First year out of school and Sacha is taking the local scene by storm as we knew he would. He still plays with the enthusiasm and confidence he had as a school player and should he be allowed to develop and not have his creative ability stifled he can and will become the world class player he is destined to be.

23) Cohen Jasper (Cheetahs)

It has been a whirlwind year for Jasper. The CUT were certainly not favourites when the 2021 Varsity Cup started but they surprised all with some enterprising play but perhaps their stand out backline player was Cohen Jasper.

A Baby Bok in 2019 the young Jasper has developed into a very exciting outside back and with Mngomezulu able to cover the flyhalf and perhaps centre births Cohen would be our cover for the wings and fullback and who better?

Coach: Bafana Nhleko

Bafana is a Springbok coach in the making. His decision making as well as selections showcased his ability to think outside of the box yet still play according to South Africa’s traditional strengths.

The man knows his rugby, that much is clear – but moving Goosen from hooker to blindside was a masterstroke and showed us that he is willing to take the risks needed and make the big calls that would help the Baby Boks overcome what would be an extremely tough Cubs outfit.

British & Irish Lions Cubs XV:

15 Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers & England)

A fairly easy selection at full back, Steward has been an absolute rock for Leicester Tigers over the last 18 months and was rightly rewarded with England caps by Eddie Jones this summer, fulfilling the promise he showed at Norwich School.

Leicester Tom Premiership finances

(Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

A titan under the high ball, and with his huge frame he absolutely eats the yards ahead of him on the counter attack. Against a South African aerial bombardment, there are few players you would rather have waiting. Developing his wider game ever more too and is becoming a useful second distributor for Leicester Tigers outside of George Ford.

14 Louis Lynagh (Harlequins & England)

Eligible for Australia and Italy too, but for the purposes of this exercise his England age-grade caps and the likelihood of an England call up in the not too distant future mean we are very comfortable selecting the Harlequins maestro.

Lynagh Jones England

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Equally happy on the wing or at full back, Lynagh enjoyed an absolutely extraordinary finish to the season with Harlequins, catapulting him into a position of being an absolute must pick for this British and Irish Lions Cubs side. His maturity in the last few weeks of the season under intense pressure showed just what a strong character the former Hampton School star is, and perhaps we might also be able to persuade his father to join the coaching staff for the Cubs!

13 Dan Kelly (Leicester Tigers & England)

At the time of picking the initial squad, Kelly was listed as Irish in our video. However his hugely consistent performances for Leicester Tigers throughout the season saw Eddie Jones sit up and take notice as he drafted the Kirkham Grammar School old boy into his England squad and capped him this summer.

It was little wonder, Kelly was been epic this year. Not just in his touches on the ball but also in his work off it, which has been highlighted consistently through the year in attack and defence. A key cog in this Cubs side.

12 Hayden Hyde (Harlequins & Ireland)

Inside centre was a tricky call, Aneurin Owen has been outstanding, while Max Ojomoh was called into the England squad for the summer off the back of just a couple of club games for Bath.

Hyde got the nod from us though for his all round game, allied to his physical presence in the midfield – he enjoyed plenty of his junior rugby at Cranleigh in the back row. After a spell with Ulster he is now back at Harlequins, and having played with both England and Irish sides through the age-grades, his final step remains to be seen. Either way, his familiarity with Kelly in the midfield should prove exciting and Hyde talents should be brought to the fore outside our selection at fly half.

11 Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester & Wales)

Perhaps the easiest selection of all, the former Hartpury College student is such a talent that he was a certainty for Warren Gatland’s squad as the youngest player, and he has shown himself to be absolutely worthy of the place throughout. Perhaps not a Test starter yet, but a worthy tourist, and the first name on the teamsheet in our Cubs XV.

Cheslin Kolbe

His speed is no secret but preventing him from unleashing it is quite another matter. What is perhaps most frightening is that the young star is only going to get better as the years go on. Rees-Zammit has 100 cap potential.

10 Ioan Lloyd (Bristol Bears & Wales)

There is not much more to be said about the young Welshman save for what already has been, he is an utterly precocious talent. Comfortable at fly half and full back, he has also played on the wing for Bristol and can do a job in the centres too.

It is at fly half where we want to see the Clifton College old boy’s instinctive talent in this side though, creating space both for himself and others through his immense footwork, speed, and vision. A mesmeric talent.

9 Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers & England)

The Lions have an embarrassment of riches at scrum half, but the former Oakham School star gets the nod after captaining England to U20 Six Nations glory and taking the Player of the Tournament award with him too.

It is surely just a matter of time before senior honours come for van Poortvliet, who has two of the very best to learn from at club level in Ben Youngs and Richard Wigglesworth. He has a wonderfully balanced game, a great sniping player but equally comfortable now with some of the more mundane tasks of the modern day scrum half.

1 Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks & England)

There is a reason why both England and Scotland are tussling over the attentions of the former Sedbergh School loosehead – he has been utterly extraordinary for Sale Sharks.

Fortunately for us, he is most definitely eligible for the Lions and gets the nod for his ability to compete at the set piece against giants much longer in the tooth than he is, while also playing hard and skilfully in the loose. Throw in his dominance at the breakdown, and you start to get the complete modern day loosehead.

2 Alfie Barbeary (Wasps & England)

One of the easier picks, Barbeary is ludicrously good. Already mixing it with the big boys not just on ability, but on power too, which is quite extraordinary for a 20 year old forward. Wasps have used him in the back row a lot while he gets his set piece up to speed and he has looked an absolute natural there, indeed rumour has it that he’s been chomping at the bit for a game in the centres too, as he used to occasionally at Bloxham School.

Alfie Barbeary

Alfie Barbeary (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

He gets the nod at hooker in our Cubs XV though, and good luck to anyone trying to stop him. With pace, power, and deft handling skill, Barbeary is a nightmare to play against and it is simply a matter of time before Eddie Jones starts dishing out caps to him.

3 Thomas Clarkson (Leinster & Ireland)

Clarkson is a star in the making at tighthead, even if he may have to bide his time a little before senior appearances really start to rack up for him (though he is already in double figures) as he has the rather large challenge of having two Lions ahead of him in the Leinster pecking order, Tadgh Furlong and Andrew Porter.

The former Blackrock College rock is one of the reasons, though, why rumblings of a potential return to loosehead for Porter sound so believable. His abilities mean that a future of him and Porter competing for a place with Ireland and Leinster seems silly when they could be working together in the same scrum.

4 George Martin (Leicester Tigers & England) – captain

There was plenty of noise when Eddie Jones selected Martin in the Six Nations for England, but his performances for Leicester since have proven exactly why he did so. Martin is a dominant player, equally comfortable in the second row or at six, and you can see him growing in both ability and presence almost on a weekly basis now.

Eddie Jones George Martin

Young players like George Martin couild benefit from a heavy England cull /Getty via PA

He is also our pick for the captaincy of this British and Irish Lions Cubs side. He skippered Brooksby Melton College, England U18, and U20, and led Leicester Tigers in one of those extraordinary three U18 Premiership titles in a row. His Tigers teammate Jack van Poortvliet was a captaincy rival in this side, so too Ireland’s David McCann and Wales’ Jac Morgan, but Martin’s leadership gets the nod.

5 Thomas Ahern (Munster & Ireland)

The talk of the town in Irish circles about promising young second rows is the 22 year old Ryan Baird, but do not sleep on Thomas Ahern, the six foot nine inch former St Augustine’s College lock is a serious talent.

Already starting to make waves at Munster, who know a thing or two about second rows, it seems likely that he will start cementing his place in the side before too long, before likely going on to be part of a seriously talented group of contenders for the Irish second row berths alongside James Ryan and Ryan Baird.

6 Jac Morgan (Ospreys & Wales)

It was announced towards the end of the season that Morgan would be switching from the Scarlets to the Ospreys, where the outstanding Justin Tipuric will be among those that can help mentor this outstanding young talent.

The former Coleg Sir Gar man can play across the back row but is probably most at home in the 7 shirt, however we have the bundle of muscle in the six shirt in this side. He captained Wales at U20 level and will certainly be a key leader in this side, his rugby brain will be absolutely vital.

7 David McCann (Ulster & Ireland)

We very nearly gave McCann the captaincy in this side, after all he captained Royal Belfast Academical Institution before going on to captain Ireland U19 and U20, and then Ulster A. Only his relative lack of 1st XV involvement counted against him.

That will likely change fast though, he already has a handful of Ulster appearances and surely plenty more will follow in 2021/22, and at some point Ireland will likely come knocking too. McCann is s serious operator in the back row and while Sangweni and Cronje are stiff opposition, McCann can more than hold his own.

8 Jack Clement (Gloucester & England)

Cheltenham College old boy Clement was called into the senior England setup back in October, due recognition for a blistering start to the season. He then became an absolute key player for England U20 in the Six Nations in June, playing across the back row and embracing the leadership role that he had as a result of that senior exposure.

Expect even more as the years go on for this superb young player, a dominant ball carrier who is exceptional on the floor and in the tackle, too. The back row is a seriously competitive area for Gloucester, England, and this hypothetical Lions cubs side, but Clement has all the ability to become a fixture.

Replacements:

16 Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks & Scotland)

Ashman has had a real breakthrough season at Sale Sharks and seems to be thriving under the stewardship of Alex Sanderson. Called into the senior Scotland squad for the Six Nations, he was also being sounded out by England.

Scottish through and through though, the former Sandbach man was a leading light for Scotland U20 in the 2019 World Rugby U20 Championships, where despite their relegation he was one of the star names at the tournament. He will provide real impact off the bench.

17 Phil Brantingham (Newcastle Falcons & England)

Ever since we first laid eyes on Brantingham at RGS Newcastle, his ability has been obvious. Comfortable in the scrum but it is in the loose where Brantingham excels with his superb handling and great work on the floor.

His tussle with Rodd would be fantastic on tour, even more so as his experience begins to catch up with that of the Sale Shark. Keep your eye on Brantingham over the next few years.

18 Fin Baxter (Harlequins & England)

A tighthead when captaining Wellington College and England U18, it looks as though Harlequins have moved him to loosehead now, with England following suit. However it is at tighthead where we select him for this Lions Cubs XV, in his tried and tested England U18 partnership with Brantingham.

It is a mark of Baxter’s ability that Harlequins wanted to keep him around as 24th man through the semi finals and final stage of their title winning campaign, meaning that he missed all but the last game of England U20 Six Nations campaign. So what did Baxter do? He started that one game and took away the Player of the Match award to boot. Some player.

19 Christ Tshiunza (Exeter Chiefs & Wales)

Now we get into the positions on the bench where it’s as much about balance as it is about selection, and with that in mind we selected the awesomely talent former Whitchurch High School star, Christ Tshiunza. Nominally covering the second row, he is equally happy at 6 where he appeared for Wales in the U20 Six Nations.

Much like the roles offered to the Lions by Courtney Lawes and Tadgh Beirne, for the Cubs Tshiunza offers the physicality of a second row allied to the dynamism of a back row. He has huge potential, and at Exeter Chiefs he is at a club who will nuture him well. Just edges out England U20s players player of the tournament at the Six Nations, Ewan Richards, and London Irish’s Ben Donnell.

20 Carwyn Tuipulotu (Scarlets & Wales)

An out and out number 8, the former Sedbergh School star is a beast of a player. He featured for Wales U20 a year young in the Six Nations and already has a few Scarlets appearances to his name.

Physically dominant, he is a brilliant carrier and a bulldozing defender and despite competition from the likes of Emeka Ilione, Rory Darge, and Richard Capstick, he rightly takes his place on the bench in the Lions Cubs side.

21 Jamie Dobie (Glasgow Warriors & Scotland)

Incredibly unlucky not to be in our starting XV, but such is the quality of scrum halves in this squad that two out of three were always going to be hugely unlucky. Dobie has been in Scotland squads in the Six Nations and in the summer, and would have been capped were it not for Covid to obliterate Scotland’s summer schedule.

He has been earmarked for the top since school and was given a senior professional contract straight from Merchiston Castle School and almost immediately started making an impact for Glasgow Warriors. Scotland, and probably Lions, caps are coming for this young superstar before long.

22 Charlie Atkinson (Wasps & England)

Atkinson’s year has been astonishing, thrown straight from Abingdon School into the Wasps 1st XV and then named in the England shadow squad for the Six Nations. His skills and temperament are utterly extraordinary.

His U20 Six Nations was perhaps not as he would have liked, Worcester Warriors’ Fin Smith grabbed the 10 shirt with both hands and were we picking the squad today would certainly be one of our three Lions Cubs fly halves. However Atkinson would too, and his ability to cover 15 as well makes him a brilliant bench option for this side.

23 Aneurin Owen (Dragons & Wales)

With both Atkinson and Lloyd offering back three cover for this side, our final bench spot goes to a centre, where England pair Max Ojomoh and Will Joseph were our options alongside Owen. All three could, of course, do the job, but the former Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw man gets the nod from us for his ability to take the ball to the line and make late decisions as to whether to pass or carry.

It is a sign of his abilities that in a midfield that contained Jamie Roberts and Nick Tompkins, Owen became one of the most consistent starters for the Dragons towards the end of last season, testament not only to his skills but also to his temperament.

Coaches: John Fletcher, Peter Walton, Russell Earnshaw

Simple really. Working as a three these were arguably the premier age-grade coaches in the world. For reasons best known to themselves the RFU dispensed with them, wouldn’t it be great to see these three superb and empowering minds overseeing the best young talent that Britain and Ireland have to offer?

Near Misses

South Africa

FC du Plessis: his status as a French player meant he wasn’t eligible when we selected our first squad, a huge talent that we are happy is back in South Africa

Reinhard Ludwig: amazing performances during the international series shows that Ludwig is more than ready for the big stage

Corne Weilbach: it was a tussle between him and Seb Lombard, a difficult decision made all the more difficult by a solid showing at the recent international series

Jordan Hendrikse: Jordan was always a talented player, this year he has shown he is one of the best under 20 players on the planet. We never saw this coming and had the squad been selected today Jordan would be one of the first names on our list

Canan Moodie: Moodie’s performances showed that we don’t always know everything, he was off our radar and as people who pride themselves in being highly knowledgeable about youth rugby he was so good it made us look silly not picking him. It should be noted from our side through we are always very happy to be proven wrong

Quan Horn: yet another player who has shone despite us sleeping on him. Quan we always knew as an outstanding centre but his performances at fullback were truly something special. A big talent with a big future.

Lions Cubs

Raffi Quirke: Three top class scrum halves means one was always going to miss out on the 23. Quirke is a gem of a player and his tussle with van Poortvliet for the England 9 shirt could last a decade or more.

Ollie Sleightholme: Pace to burn and a consistent force in the Northampton Saints lineup for a couple of years. Sleightholme only misses out in the side due to the sheer quality and form of the other two wingers.

Fin Smith: Should have been in the original squad. Smith was a superstar at U18 level and has confirmed this in men’s rugby, becoming Worcester Warriors’ youngest ever starter and providing remarkable quality and consistency for England U20.

Chunya Munga: Another that should have been in the original squad, a fact borne out by the fact that Eddie Jones called him into his squad for England’s summer Tests. A true star of the future.

Ewan Richards: Players player of the tournament for England at the U20 Six Nations tells a big story here, Richards is top quality.

Max Ojomoh, Will Joseph, & Phil Cokanasiga: Ojomoh and Joseph could easily have been starting in this side, and while not in the squad so too could Cokanasiga. The calls in the centres were incredibly tight.

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Baby Boks v Lions Cubs XVs: Who would win?

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