When the yearly excitement surrounding the end of season drama dies down, attention will immediately draw to the approaching Rugby World Cup in October.
This World Cup may be the tournament most shrouded in eminence, but before the eyes of the rugby world descend on New Zealand, the month of June will see the best young rugby players congregating in Italy for the Junior World Cup.
Since it’s inauguration in 2008, the junior All Blacks have triumphed each year, but fresh from a Grand Slam in the Under 20 Six Nations, England stars George Ford and Owen Farrell are full of confidence.
“After the success of the Six Nations we’re all buzzing and can’t wait,” said Leicester fly half Ford. “You have to take it game by game and you simply can’t take anything for granted, but we’re full of confidence and can’t wait to get started.”
Ford, son of English defence coach Mike Ford, is a mere 18 years old but he has quickly established himself as an integral member of the squad. “Being the fly half you naturally take a leading role and I love having that responsibility. Alex Gray (the Newcastle number 8) is captain and there are leaders across the pitch which also helps.”
Since setting the record as the youngest player to make his professional debut in England, Ford has gained experience from playing in Leicester’s second’s string, and he feels he has greatly benefited from his time to date at the Tigers.
“There are a lot of good players in there (the ‘A’ team) and it’s a good mix of youth and experience. I’ve played with Billy (Twelvetrees) a number of times now and the more experienced players really help to guide you. The training is physical when it needs to be and there’s a big emphasis on the basics,” he said.
While Ford continues his pupillage at Leicester, Saracens’ Owen Farrell has claimed the club’s number 10 shirt over some illustrious rivals in what is only his first full year with the London side. But it’s clear to see why Farrell, like Ford the son of a famous rugby league convert, has thrived despite his tender years.
“I enjoy the responsibility of playing fly half. I’m a talker on the field and communication is a big part of my game. Playing outside the likes of Richard Wigglesworth and Neil de Kock is also a massive help. We’re a tight-knit group here so I’ve always felt comfortable.”
Considering the presence and maturity the rookie Farrell brings to his role at 10, many people may be surprised to see the Saracens fly half line up at inside centre alongside Ford. But this is familiar position for Farrell. “I’ve played inside centre to George from the ages of 16 to 18 so it’s nothing too different. There’s great competition for places and this pushes everyone to be better.”
With recognition for this crop of Under 20s increasing each week – Christian Wade the latest player to make his club debut – many of these youngsters will enter the World Cup with great experience garnered.
“The squad’s so strong that they can all make an impact,” said Ford, a line which was later fully endorsed by Farrell. “Everyone is so talented that it’s almost impossible to predict who will break into their side next. Anyone can.”
The abundant talent and potential is clear. Fully realising this will be the next step.
By Tom James