England and the Premiership clubs both claim that the academies in the country are doing sterling work to produce young talent for both club and country, but just how true is this?
We put together a team of the youngest players to have made starts for their club in the Premiership in specific positions.
1) David Flatman, Saracens (18 years, 326 days), v London Irish, 13th December 1998
Flatman went on to play for England on a number of occasions, but his career was blighted by injury, meaning he never quite made the impact he could have done at international level. He is the youngest ever starting loosehead in the Premiership, making his debut before his 19th birthday.
2) Matt Thompson, Newcastle (19 years, 74 days) v Bristol, 24th February 2002
Although he went on to feature for the Saxons, Thompson never represented England and was a solid and consistent, if not spectacular performer for his club Newcastle. Back in 2014 he left the club to join Darlington Mowden Park RFC.
Recent England cap Tommy Taylor made his debut at the age of 19 years and 360 days back in 2011, making him one of the youngest ever Premiership starters at hooker, although a certain Dylan Hartley played for Northampton against Leicester aged 19 years and 163 days.
3) Jack Forster, Gloucester (19 years, 6 days) v Bristol, 25th March 2006
Like Thompson, Forster’s solid club form was good enough for him to be called up for the England Saxons, but he never quite made it to international level. He is officially the youngest ever tighthead in the Premiership.
4) Tom Ryder, Leicester (18 years, 212 days) v Saracens, 21st September 2003
Early in his career there was a lot of hype surrounding Ryder, but he never quite managed to live up to his potential at Welford Road. Although a regular in England’s age-grade teams, he eventually chose to play for Scotland whom he qualified for via his Scottish-born father.
5) Steve Borthwick, Bath (19 years, 68 days) v Saracens, 19th December 1998
Current England forwards coach, Borthwick went on to have a long and at times successful career with England, captaining his country as well. However, he had domestic success with later club Saracens. He made his starting debut for Bath at just over 19 years of age.
6) James Haskell, Wasps (18 years, 164 days) v Harlequins, 13th September 2003
James Haskell’s club career began very early for him, making his debut at the tender age of 18. By the end of the season he was a Heineken Cup and Premiership winner.
7) Calum Clark, Leeds (18 years, 112 days) v Saracens, 30th September 2007
A player who worked with ex-England coach Stuart Lancaster down at Leeds and through the England age-grade teams, Clark was just over 18 when he first started for his club. It was Lancaster who gave Clark his first and only England cap and Clark will be hoping he can persuade Eddie Jones to give him a chance in his new England set-up.
Current EPS member Will Evans made his debut aged for Leicester aged 19 years 65 days v Gloucester on 2nd April 2016.
8) Billy Vunipola, Wasps (18 years, 171 days) v Bath, 23rd April 2011
Before Vunipola swept all before him at Saracens, he was making a name for himself at Wasps and made his starting debut for the club when only 18 years old.
9) Ben Youngs, Leicester (18 years, 39 days) v Saracens, 14th October 2007
Current England scrum-half Youngs was one of the youngest ever Premiership starters when he faced Saracens in 2007. By June 2010 he was making his full England debut.
10) George Ford, Leicester (18 years, 171 days) v Exeter, 3 September 2011
George Ford is officially the youngest ever starting fly-half in the Premiership, making his debut for Leicester where he first made his name as a club player.
11) Jamie Elliott, Northampton (18 years, 80 days) v Saracens, 19 November 2010
Northampton’s winger is still an important part of their squad and he will be hoping that the coming season will provide him with a springboard into Eddie Jones’ thoughts.
Technically David Doherty is the youngest starting wing, making his starting debut at 18 years, 28 days v Saracens. However, he is down in the team as a fullback – where he is also the youngest ever starter!
In terms of wingers, with the exception of Doherty and Mathew Tait, all players in the top ten youngest made their debuts after 2008, highlighting the good work done by the academies in recent years.
12) James Hoyle, Sale (18 years 201 days) v Newcastle, 21 Sep 2003
Hoyle played for both Sale and Newcastle in his brief professional career, making 12 appearances in total.
13) Ollie Smith, Leicester (18 years 96 days) v Wasps, 18 Nov 2000
Smith was a player of enormous potential, but a loss of form after a few seasons and a lack of confidence meant he never quite achieved what he should have done. World Cup-winning squad Clive Woodward was a fan and selected Smith for the ill-fated 2005 Lions tour.
New EPS addition Joe Marchant is the 8th youngest centre in Premiership history, making his debut for Harlequins on 16th May 2016.
14) Mathew Tait, Newcastle (18 years, 86 days) v London Irish, 2 May 2004
There was an awful amount expected of a very green Mathew Tait, who was selected for England by Andy Robinson a year later when he was infamously lifted off the ground by Welsh centre Gavin Henson as England slumped to defeat.
However, Tait has gone on to amass 38 caps and started most of England’s 2007 World Cup campaign when they reached the final.
15) David Doherty, Leeds (18 years 44 days) v Wasps, 13 March 2005
Doherty was seen as an excellent prospect when he first hit the scene with Leeds, but despite time spent at both Wasps and Sale he never really kicked on. He retired from playing recently and is now Director of Rugby at Harrogate RFC.
As well as Doherty, in terms of ‘young guns’ Adrian Winnan and Rory Teague never went on to be Premiership regulars, but Iain Balshaw, Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Mike Haley, Tom Homer, Danny Cipriani and Ollie Devoto have all gone on to have very successful careers so far.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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