England head coach Alan Dickens lauded the international element of the Six Nations Under-20 Summer Series as fantastic for the development of young players after naming his 32-man squad that will travel to Italy.
The Six Nations sides plus South Africa and Georgia will compete in Verona and Treviso from Friday in an alternate event to the postponed World Rugby U20 Championship that will return in 2023.
Having finished the 2022 Six Nations Under-20 Championship in the role, Leicester Tigers back row Emeka Ilione will captain a side that features the likes of Worcester Warriors’ Premiership Rugby Cup-winning fly-half Fin Smith as well as Bath regular Ewan Richards.
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Dickens, who led England to a third-place finish in this year’s Six Nations, said: “I think it’s fantastic that World Rugby and Six Nations got together to put something on for this current Under-20s crop.
“I think it’s important for their development that they get the opportunity to play strong international competition, which is certainly what we are doing within our group.
“I’m thankful that they have managed to put it on while the World Cup is not being played.”
England kickstart their campaign against South Africa on Friday before fixtures against France and reigning Six Nations Under-20 Grand Slam champions Ireland follow in quick succession.
And Dickens is looking forward to having the chance to coach a fixed group of players while seeing his side bond and gel together over the two-and-a-half weeks in picturesque Italy.
He explained: “We’ve seen a lot of the squad throughout the year at various times but what we haven’t had since probably last year when we went to the Six Nations in Cardiff, we haven’t had the group for a prolonged period of time.
“During the Six Nations it chop and changes with club commitments as some players get pulled back and we adapt as we go through.”
Dickens masterminded a Grand Slam in the 2021 Championship when all fixtures were held at Cardiff Arms Park amid the pandemic.
And he believes it is great testament to the Under-20s programme that then-captain Jack van Poortvliet has gone on to make the senior England squad for the tour to Australia after picking up a Premiership winners medal with Leicester over the weekend.
Dickens added: “We knew what a special player he was within the Under-20s group and I’m really pleased he has been selected, it’s really deserved.”
Joining Van Poortvliet on the plane down under are two current Under-20s in Henry Arundell and Will Joseph as Eddie Jones’ apprentice players.
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“They are both quality players,” said Dickens. “Would they make this group stronger? Yes, they certainly would. But the opportunity to go on a senior tour is a fantastic experience, hopefully they play but if not they will grow from the experience.
“I wish them well, they have both played their part in the Under-20s this year.”
Dickens selected his side after a tough training camp in Newcastle that featured two games against Scotland with plenty of players sticking their hand up for selection ahead of a challenging three pool games plus a cross pool fixture in Italy.
He said: “We’ve got a great mix of players in the squad. Some with experience of playing at U20 level already and some players who are new to the squad. I’m really pleased with the way they are all supporting and learning from one another.”
“We have challenging opposition in our pool games against South Africa, France and Ireland. We’ve prepared well and the squad looks forward to the challenges an international series such as this provides.”
England U20 Squad
Charlie Bracken, Saracens, Caps 0 Lucas Brooke, London Irish, Caps 4 Tom Carr-Smith, Bath Rugby, Caps 3 Lewis Chessum, Leicester Tigers, Caps 3 Chandler Cunningham-South, London Irish, Caps 3 Greg Fisilau, Wasps, Caps 2 Ollie Fletcher, Newcastle Falcons, Caps 1 Ethan Grayson, Northampton Saints, Caps 5 Alex Harmes, London Irish, Caps 0 Sam Harris, Bath Rugby, Caps 0 George Hendy, Northampton Saints, Caps 3 Emeka Ilione, Leicester Tigers, Caps 6 Louie Johnson, Newcastle Falcons, Caps 5 Toby Knight, Saracens, Caps 5 Tom Litchfield, Northampton Saints, Caps 5 Tom Lockett, Northampton Saints, Caps 4 Rekeiti Ma’asi-White, Wasps, Caps 1 Archie McArthur, Wasps, Caps 2 Tumy Onasanya, Sale Sharks, Caps 0 Conor Oresanya, Harlequins, Caps 0 Charlie Rice, Bristol Bears, Caps 3 Ewan Richards, Bath Rugby, Caps 7 Ethan Staddon, Bath Rugby, Caps 0 Finn Theobald-Thomas, Worcester, Caps 2 Andrew Turner, Bristol Bears, Caps 0 Fin Smith, Worcester Warriors, Caps 5 Iwan Stephens, Newcastle Falcons, Caps 1 John Stewart, Bath Rugby, Caps 5 Mikey Summerfield, London Irish, Caps 5 Jed Walsh, Leicester Tigers, Caps 0 Jevaughn Warren, Saracens, Caps 0 Tobi Wilson, Worcester Warriors, Caps 0
Pool A: France, Ireland, England, South Africa
Pool B: Scotland, Wales, Italy, Georgia
England’s Pool A games Round 1 – England v South Africa, Friday 24 June, KO 4pm (BST), Payanini Centre, Verona Round 2 – France v England, Wednesday 29 June, KO 4pm (BST), Payanini Centre, Verona Round 3 – Ireland v England, Tuesday 5 July, KO 7pm (BST), Payanini Centre, Verona
Play offs Tuesday 12 July, KO TBC, Stadio Monigo, Treviso