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Apprenticeships with the seniors is driving up England U20 standards, says Dickens

England U20

England’s chances of achieving a first U20s Six Nations Grand Slam since 2016 have been boosted after a number of their players were called-up to train with the senior team.

While Newcastle full-back Josh Hodge trained with England’s first team as an ‘apprentice’ prior to the Six Nations, seven further players were given an opportunity to impress head coach Eddie Jones after being summoned for last Friday’s open training session at Twickenham.

Exeter trio Rus Tuima, Sam Maunder and Richard Capstick were joined by Josh Gray (Gloucester), Leicester’s Freddie Steward and Sale pair Tom Roebuck and Connor Doherty as they pitted their wits against established Red Rose stars as part of their ongoing development.

Under 20s boss Alan Dickens told TRP: “You really see the value of this sort of thing. Josh Hodge came back into our camp after being with the first team in Portugal and he saw how top end players operate, manage themselves and how professional they are.

“You could see the instant effect that had in the way he went about driving standards, pushing our other guys in the right direction and speaking up in meetings, which is important for leaders in the group. We saw the benefits of that in our opening two games.

“A few more lads trained with the first team on Friday, which is done in conjunction with the Premiership clubs, and it was a brilliant opportunity for them as well.

“They can only gain from the experience, not just from training with the first team but from doing it in front of 10,000 people at Twickenham, and it will benefit our team.”

England U20s take on Ireland at Northampton this Friday and while Dickens is sweating over the availability of key players like Manu Vunipola, JJ Tonks, Gabe Hamer-Webb, Ben Donnell and Ollie Sleightholme, who may be required for club duty, there is no shortage of confidence after hard-fought victories in France (29-24) and Scotland (21-17).

Dickens said: “We were a bit disappointed in Scotland because we didn’t really get into the flow of the game, but it was on the back of a tough trip to France and we’d only trained fully for one day beforehand.

“These are the experiences players have to go through at international level and one of the most pleasing things is we found a way to win both games.

“We were under pressure from Scotland, both in possession and territory, but in the last 15 minutes we controlled the game, adapted to the conditions and the subs came on and finished the game superbly for us and we’ll go into the Ireland game with confidence.”

Ireland were England’s bogey team last year, scuppering their hopes in the opening games of both the Six Nations and Junior World Cup. Dickens added: “They’ve tested us recently but this time we’ll be going in with some decent games behind us. Squad-wise, the Premiership teams take priority so we’ll have to see what happens after all the games have been played this weekend.”

NEALE HARVEY


England U20s team to play Ireland at Franklin’s Gardens:

England U20: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Gabe Hamer-Webb, 13 Connor Doherty, 12 Charlie Watson, 11 Tom Roebuck, 10 George Barton, 9 Sam Maunder (c); 1 Sam Crean, 2 Theo Dan, 3 Luke Green, 4 Hugh Tizard, 5 George Hammond, 6 Richard Capstick, 7 Josh Gray, 8 Rus Tuima.

Replacements: 16 Ben Atkins, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Harvey Beaton, 19 Chunya Munga, 20 Rob Farrar, 21 Blake Boyland, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 Max Ojomah

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