England Rugby U20s sealed fifth place in the World Rugby U20 Championship on June 22nd, with a comprehensive 45-26 win over Wales. This was their poorest performance in the tournament since 2012, having either won or finished runners up in the past six years. A bad sign for the future prospects of these players?
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 22, 2019
We look back at that England Rugby U20 team from 2012 and see where they are now. See if you recognise any of these names.
2012 U20 Junior World Championship
England Rugby U20s were in a group with Italy, Ireland and hosts South Africa. A tough group, and there was always going to be a big casualty. England defeated Italy and Ireland before losing to South Africa, finishing third in their group. They then lost to Ireland in the 5-8th semi final play-offs, before beating Australia 17-13 to claim 7th place.
The international stars
The most obvious stand out name is Billy Vunipola, of Wasps at the time. Following this tournament, he joined Saracens and made his full international debut a year later. You no doubt know the rest.
Elsewhere, front rowers Alec Hepburn, Kyle Sinckler and Luke Cowan-Dickie have also graduated to the senior team, as well as being part of Premiership-winning squads. Sinckler scored tries against Italy and Ireland in the two matches, while Cowan-Dickie also crossed against the Azzuri.
Meanwhile in the backs more up-and-coming Exeter Chiefs Henry Slade and Sam Hill lined up alongside Marland Yarde and Dan Robson. The latter two have been on the fringes of the international scene but have been affected by injury in the past 12 months. Otherwise, they could be hoping to play in the 2019 World Cup.
Poached by other nations
The squad also included Will Addison, who has since gone on to international honours, but with Ireland. He gambled on a move to Ulster from Sale Sharks in 2018 and he made his debut against Italy later that year.
Another of the side to abandon the hope of England honours was Tom Heathcote. The fly half, who played a part in all three of the 2012 group games, was called up for Scotland later that year and made his debut against Tonga.
Where there have been great successes, there have inevitably been a few players who didn’t make it big. In fact, the vast majority of this squad play, or have played, Premiership rugby. Only Chris Walker, Nathan Morris and Koree Britton no longer ply their trade at the highest levels.
There are also some of this squad earning their corn abroad. Specifically in Italy, where Jamie Elliott, Dave Sisi and Charlie Walker now play for Zebre.
Best of the rest
Elsewhere in the tournament there were several youngsters on show who will be very familiar.
The Irish front row featured a 19 year old Tadhg Furlong, who has since gone on to be a British and Irish Lion. He was supported in the pack by the likes of Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson.
Some of the most exciting current day players were discovered in this tournament. Finn Russell, Handré Pollard and Santiago Cordero all represented their countries here and have gone on to star for their nations in senior competitions.
Not the end for the 2019 England Rugby U20s
2019 has been a disappointment in relative terms for the England Rugby U20s. But that is only due to the high standards that have been set in the previous six years. The 2012 team can now boast 118 senior caps and counting, and will see several members representing England in Japan later this year.
There is little reason to suggest the 2019 cohort cannot achieve similar honours. For example Marcus Smith and Ted Hill have already been involved with the senior team; many others such as Tom Seabrook and Tom Willis are pushing for regular appearances for their clubs.
So the future is still positive for England. They only lost one of their five matches in 2019, albeit heavily. Many will be able to look back at this tournament and say it was “where it all began”.
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