English Under 20s ready to shine brightly in the Premiership
The beginning of September marks the start of the first full season on the road to Rugby World Cup 2015 in England, and there are various young players in the Aviva Premiership this season that could star in that tournament.
England took part in the U20 World Championships in June in confident mood following their trip to the final the previous year, but a host of players not competing either due to full international recognition or injury tempered the optimism of many fans prior to the beginning of the championships.
With the likes of Owen Farrell, George Ford, Matt Kvesic and Christian Wade all absent for England, it provided an excellent opportunity for younger players to catch the eye in the daunting rugby environs of South Africa. Despite finishing a disappointing seventh in the competition, a number of players shone for England and will certainly have put themselves in contention for regular starting roles at their respective Aviva Premiership club sides.
Amongst the forwards, Billy Vunipola (London Wasps) displayed maturity and physicality in the back row, keeping England competitive at the breakdown throughout the tournament, as well as proving himself to be an effective ball carrier. He saw a lot of games for Wasps last season due to the frequency and severity of injuries suffered by many of the senior players, and he will likely see repeated action again this season despite the additions of James Haskell and Ashley Johnson.
Front-row forwards Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs) and Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins) both had superb tournaments as the England scrum looked superior in the majority of their matches and was one of the positives coming out of the competition. Both players will probably struggle to get regular games due to the strength in depth at the prop position at both of their clubs, but they could certainly feature frequently from the bench or in the LV= Cup.
Whilst many of the forwards may have to wait a year or two before they are physically ready for a full Premiership season, the backs could well make an instant impact when the season kicks off on the 1st September. Players such as Ryan Mills (Gloucester), Marland Yarde (London Irish) and Tom Heathcote (Bath) all look to have the attributes to succeed in the Premiership.
Mills physically outmatched many of his opposite numbers at the Championships, and Gloucester Director of Rugby Nigel Davies could be keen to add him to an already exciting young backline which features the likes of Jonny May, Freddie Burns and Henry Trinder.
London Irish will be posed with a similar situation regarding Yarde, who could be added to a backline already containing youngsters Tom Homer and Jonathan Joseph. The winger has electric pace and runs incisive lines, and if given precious game time this season could potentially replicate the success that Wade had with Wasps last season.
Heathcote already made an impact in the Bath team last season and was touted as one to watch by many at the Rec, but his early promise has been rocked by what looked like a serious knee injury picked up pre-season. Gary Gold described it as ‘devastating,’ but subsequent scans have shown it not to be as serious as first thought with only a six-week lay-off. If Stephen Donald fails to improve on his form from last season, Heathcote when fit and healthy, will find himself called to the first XV sooner rather than later.
Although many would say that considering these players’ potential for the England squad is premature, especially when the majority do not yet regularly start for their club side, recent alumni from the Under 20 side including Farrell, Wade and Manu Tuilagi have all gone on to find success with the full international team very quickly after establishing themselves at the club level.
The current England side may be packed with a multitude of young, talented players, many of whom are likely to be in the squad for years to come, but they should not get complacent – there is clearly another great generation of young English players ready to come through and take the Premiership by storm.
By Alex Shaw