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Where are they now? The 2023 England World Rugby U20 Championship team

By Liam Heagney
Lewis Chessum leads off England after playing South Africa in 2023 (Photo by World Rugby via Getty Images)

Alan Dickens’ pre-tournament exit to become attack coach at Leicester left England appointing Mark Mapletoft in a hurry before the 2023 World Rugby U20 Championship. His preparations consisted of an on-the-fly drawn two-match series in Georgia before flying to South Africa where his English young guys carved a reputation for stickiness.

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They came through their pool unbeaten, securing draws with Ireland and Australia along with a win over Fiji, and that was enough to qualify for a semi-final versus France where they asked some serious questions of the would-be champions before losing 31-52.

That left them contesting bronze versus South Africa. While they were beaten 15-22, they have since realised the benefit of having so many 2004-born players in the squad as they are now returning to South Africa as the reigning Six Nations U20 champions. Here is what has happened this past year to Mapletoft’s class of 2023:

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15. Sam Harris
The full-back had first-team Premiership Rugby Cup experience at Bath coming in the age-grade tournament and has continued that progress at his club, making five Gallagher Premiership and Investec Champions Cup appearances this team including a league start at Leicester on New Year’s Eve. Was also part of the England A training squad versus Portugal.

14. Cassius Cleaves
Another who had Premiership Rugby Cup exposure before arriving in South Africa, the Harlequins flyer has continued his apprenticeship with Championship outings at partner club London Scottish.

13. Joe Jenkins
Four tries in six first-team outings – including Premiership/Champions Cup – for Bristol meant he arrived at the age-grade tournament as one to watch. Made just a single appearance this season for the Bears, heading off instead on load to Cornish Pirates in the Championship to further his education.

12. Rekeiti Ma’asi-White
The midfielder, who has drawn comparisons with Manu Tuilagi, began 2022/23 as a Wasps player and was on the books at Sale by the time of the age-grade finals. Has built on a single appearance for Sharks with seven outings this team, including a Premiership start against Bristol and Championship involvement for Caldy. Another U20s graduate who was in the England A training squad versus Portugal.

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11. Alex Wills
Another talent attached to Sale, he made two appearances this season – including a Champions Cup start at the Stormers. Now finds himself back in Cape Town as he is still eligible for Mapletoft’s U20.

10. Connor Slevin
Had benefitted pre-tournament from Harlequins’ tie-up with London Scottish and has continued his development this season with both, playing Premiership Rugby Cup and Championship Rugby.

9. Nye Thomas
Was just 18 when he made his Premiership debut for Sale in November 2021. He continued that learning by combining Sharks with Championship side Caldy before the age-grade tournament and has since played nine times this season for his Prem club.

1. Asher Opoku-Fordjour
The age-grade loosehead made a huge impression in South Africa and he carried that on back at Saleas a tighthead who gained a cult following over the winter for his scrummaging. Made 11 appearances for the Manchester club, including a Challenge Cup start at Ospreys. Is now back in Cape Town as he is still eligible for U20s.

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2. Craig Wright
The Northampton academy hooker is another forward who has returned to South Africa this week as part of Mapletoft’s class of 2024. Played Premiership Cup Rugby for Saints and Championship for Bedford in recent times.

3. Afolabi Fasogbon
Another front-rower set to play again in the U20 Championship, he was picked up by Gloucester following the collapse of London Irish and played some Premiership Rugby Cup this season with them.

4. Joe Bailey
Played Premiership Rugby Cup for Exeter before last year’s age-grade tournament. The lock hasn’t had that exposure this past season for Exeter but he is another forward who is back in South Africa for a second tilt at trying to win the U20 Championship.

5. Lewis Chessum
The skipper passionately led his team at the tournament in Cape Town after getting exposure to adult rugby on loan at Championship club Nottingham. Back at Leicester this term but still waiting for a breakthrough and an opportunity to play first-team with older brother Ollie, the England lock.

6. Chandler Cunningham-South
The poster boy of this 20s team, he arrived in South Africa having learned he was unemployed due to the demise of London Irish. Was soon snapped up by Harlequins and his progress has been staggering, making four Test appearances off the England Six Nations bench and then starting for Steve Borthwick’s side last Saturday versus Japan in Tokyo.

7. Nathan Michelow
Had five first-team appearances with Saracens – including two in the Premiership – before packing down in the back row in Cape Town. Enjoyed further outings this term with the Londoners but was mainly at Ampthill for 10 Championship appearances. Now back in South Africa as part of Mapletoft’s 2024 class.

8. Zach Carr
Went to South Africa with Premiership Rugby Cup experience for Harlequins and, like Slevin, has doubled up this term, expanding his horizons with Scottish in the Championship.

Replacements:
16. Nathan Jibulu
Went to South Africa as another Harlequins player who has taken the London Scottish route to aid his development. Has since jumped the rankings at Quins, making eight Premiership/Champions Cup appearances off their bench over the winter.

17. Ethan Clarke
Another Harlequins talent, he has been grafting on loan at Worthing Raiders in recent times.

18. James Halliwell
The sub tighthead had one Prem Cup appearance for Bristol before the age-grade finals. Didn’t follow up with a first-team outing this term but has been busy with England U20s and will be on view in the coming weeks in South Africa.

19. Finn Carnduff
Had five first-team outings with Leicester, including a 10-minute Premiership debut, heading into South Africa. Continued that progress back at Tigers, his six appearances in 2023/24 featuring a first start in the league derby versus Northampton in April after leading England to age-grade Six Nations glory. Now set to captain his country at the Championship.

20. Tristan Woodman
The former Flyde back-rower is still eligible for England U20s selection but hasn’t made the cut following a restricted season where a loan from parent club Sale to Caldy was the highlight.

21. Charlie Bracken
A son of England 2003 World Cup winner Kyran, the scrum-half has five first-team appearances for Saracens before South Africa. Has continued that learning with one further sub run in the Premiership this season along with 17 outings for Championship outfit Ampthill.

22. Louie Johnson
Has gone from Prem Cup Rugby experience for Newcastle before the age-grade finals to nine Premiership/Challenge Cup selections this term. Has now been signed by Saracens.

23. Joseph Woodward
Prem Rugby Cup games for Leicester in 2022/23 have been followed by some more games in that tournament for Tigers but, more importantly, has played 10 times for Nottingham in the Championship.

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f
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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