England U-20s go into their World Rugby Championship final against New Zealand tomorrow knowing victory would see them become the first age grade side to lift both the Six Nations and the World Championship in the same season.
Despite losing a handful of core players to the senior team’s tour of Argentina – including precocious duo Tom and Ben Curry – the side have reached the final of the tournament for the fifth successive season since 2013, with wins against Samoa, Wales, Australia and South Africa so far.
This follows on after the side won their third Six Nations grand slam and a sixth Championship title, scoring 28 tries in the process and earning themselves four bonus points.
A win over the Baby Blacks would also mean the team has gone undefeated throughout the 2016-17 campaign, a truly stunning achievement given the impact injuries, club commitments and senior international call-ups have had on the team.
All this is evidence of the improving partnership between Premiership Rugby and the RFU, which this season sees a new coaching set-up of Ian Vass, Louis Deacon and Tom Williams – with Williams and Vass keeping their club academy roles alongside their international commitments; previously the coaching set-up involved full-time positions. Now the pathway between age-grade rugby and Test level has never been clearer than it has before.
With Jones having already raided the U-20s for several of his current touring squad to Argentina, and some of those names going on to win their first caps, the 23 for the final know they’re in the shop window for international recognition.
England will face New Zealand’s best youngsters in Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi, on Sunday afternoon, with the match kicking off at 3pm (6pm local time). The final will be broadcast live on ITV 4, so make sure you get a chance to watch the men in white’s latest generation of talent in action.
It’s a game you cannot afford to miss!
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena