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The England U20 verdict on 17-year-old debut maker Lucas Friday

By Liam Heagney
England U20s sing the anthem before their game versus Argentina (Photo by Thinus Maritz/World Rugby)

Jack Bracken understandably garnered the headlines following Saturday’s opening round win by England at the World Rugby U20s Championship. It was no mean feat by the 18-year-old right winger to score a try on his debut at that particular age-grade level, but he wasn’t the player that coach Mark Mapletoft reserved special praise for in the aftermath of the 40-21 win over Argentina.

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The reigning Six Nations champions had life tough in Athlone, going 0-14 down before battling their way back to lead 26-21 and there was 17 minutes remaining when Mapletoft called on his bench to send the 17-year-old Lucas Friday into the contest.

England were 14-0 winners during the short time he was on the pitch and his coach wasn’t shy in singing the youngster’s praises, making sure he was mentioned in his who-did-well post-game verdict. “I thought Billy Sela was immense in all aspects of the game. Sean Kerr, backs wise, did well,” said Mapletoft to RugbyPass.

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“Nice to see Ben Redshaw bouncing into this environment again and bringing some of his form from Falcons with him. Our experienced players, I thought Nathan Michelow was outstanding as well. It’s always difficult to pick individual players but there we some real big highlight reels for certain individuals there.

“I probably want to reserve the last bit for Lucas. Lucas doesn’t turn 18 until later in July and to come on in that pressured environment with 20 minutes to go, to manage and organise, it says a lot about him as an individual, the group and how they have rallied around him and integrated him into the squad because Archie (McParland) was a big loss for us.

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“Everything you want to be about as an environment, as a group of people, they are able to do that. It’s easy to pick out people with big highlight reels but it was a terrific team effort, squad effort.

“It would be so easy for management to panic as well but again it shows we have been in some tough environments this year and managed to eke things out, particularly Ireland at home second half, France away second half and the lessons we learned in Georgia were invaluable.

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“We started too slowly, for sure. Not necessarily in terms of opportunities; we created but just in terms of our accuracy and how clinical we were. We probably had three or four clean line breaks in the first half alone which could have resulted in tries and didn’t.

“They [Argentina] are a good side, very clinical and it put us on the back foot. It was a great exercise, though. You talk a lot in coaching terms around transferring ownership onto players and allowing them to find solutions to things.

“That is kind of how we structure our week with them, it’s a bit more coach led, a little more support driven and then towards the end we very much leave it over to them because ultimately they have to find solutions on the pitch and they certainly did that and there was some excellent performances from certain individuals.”

Including hat-trick scorer Jack Bracken. “Jack did brilliantly. I have known him a long time through the U18 programme. His brother Charlie played with us for two years. And look, that is what he is does. He is electric. There is no substitute for pace in this game and that is a big learning for him and great outcome, scored a couple of sensational tries.

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“He also impacted the game well. Where he has got to try and improve is in some of the non-highlight reel bits which why wouldn’t he have to work on that.

“The kid’s 18 and look we have taken some big decisions bringing Jack, Angus (Hall) and Lucas who have been part of the U18 programme this year and bouncing them out here. They are fully justified in their selection.”

Next up for England are Georgia on Thursday back at Athlone and they were pleased to come through Argentina with a clean bill of health. “No. Touch wood. We picked up our fair share in Georgia, so nice to come off with nothing. These are physical, attritional games. Credit to Argentina, they started brilliantly.

“They really tested us when we went four tries to two up. It would have been easy to capitulate but they are a good side, they proved that in the Rugby Championship at U20 level and we wish them all the best for the remainder of the tournament.”

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finn 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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