England Under-20 celebrate winning the 2021 Six Nations on Tuesday afternoon
England Under-20 completed a Six Nations Grand Slam after holding off an impressive performance from Italy to win 27-17 at Cardiff Arms Park.
Exeter Chiefs wing Arthur Relton scored two of his side’s four tries, with Bath full-back Orlando Bailey and Bristol Bears centre Jack Bates crossing the line in the first half.
It was England’s first title at this level since the class of 2017, featuring British and Irish Lions flanker Tom Curry, achieved a clean-sweep and subsequently contributed a number of players to the summer tour of Argentina under Eddie Jones.
Alan Dickens’ team started strongly and had threatened even before Bailey registered their first try, a cross-field kick from Dan Lancaster narrowly evading Tom Roebuck.
The near miss did not matter, full-back Bailey capitalising on a period of pressure after ghosting into the line and slipping out of a tackle to dot down in the fifth minute. Bailey then turned provider, feeding outside centre Jack Bates with a delayed pass after Jack van Poortvliet’s dart.
Arthur Relton stretches over to score his first try
Italy had enjoyed an encouraging tournament, headlined by their 43-3 thrashing of Scotland, and were dogged in defence throughout.
England’s handling errors ensured that the score remained 17-0 until half-time and Mattia Ferrarin kicked the first points of the second period. Although a sharp first-phase attack was finished off by Relton in the corner, Italy’s industrious pack continued to scrap.
Outstanding tighthead prop Ion Neculai and replacement hooker Tommaso di Bartolomeo barged over to cut the deficit to 22-17 before Relton settled nerves, and secured the Championship by virtue of sealing the four-try bonus point, from Charlie Atkinson’s pass.
England had been far more convincing in preceding victories over France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but held on to land a Grand Slam.
Six to watch from the class of 2021
For an idea of how integral Riley has been to England’s campaign, he arrived from the bench in the opening round with France leading his team 19-10. He promptly scored twice. England prevailed 38-22 and Riley started in four subsequent victories.
Forward dominance was the foundation of England’s clean sweep and a muscular driving maul sweeping Riley to four of his five tries before the last round of games.
But the Harlequins hooker is also an explosive runner with evasive footwork and deft handling. In the 31-14 victory over Scotland, he flicked an inside pass for Fin Smith’s first-half finish before hitch-kicking and bursting through tacklers to score from 25 metres himself after the break.
Riley is yet to make a senior debut for his club, coming closest when he was an unused replacement against Clermont in January 2020. That could change over the coming months.
Although the 20-year-old will probably begin pre-season behind Joe Gray, new signing Jack Walker and George Head in the Premiership champions’ pecking order, the departures of Scott Baldwin and Elia Elia will motivate him to build on this exceptional Championship.
In ex-Munster and Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery, a member of Harlequins’ intrepid coaching team, he has an ideal mentor and – if England’s pursuit of Ewan Ashman is anything to go by – Matt Proudfoot is eager to unearth dynamic hookers.
Eddie Jones has already had a brief look at Clement as part of an extended squad that prepared for England’s autumn fixtures last year.
The versatile, abrasive back-rower has made a total of 15 Premiership appearances for Gloucester, having been involved in England’s curtailed U20 Six Nations in 2020. This tournament, though, has felt like something of a breakthrough.
Clement has split his time between openside flanker and number eight, finishing the Championship in England’s number seven shirt after Lucas Brooke – son of Zinzan – was suspended following a red card against Scotland.
In his first game after the positional switch, against Ireland, Clement amassed 41 metres from eight carries to complement 17 tackles. An eye-catching dump-tackle on opposition centre Cathal Forde, directly from a first-half scrum, epitomised England’s superior brawn.
Rosters around the Premiership are loaded with strong back-rowers. Gloucester is no different, with Ben Morgan, Jake Polledri, Ruan Ackermann, Lewis Ludlow and Jordy Reid among those vying for game-time.
It speaks volumes for Clement’s talent that he managed three Premiership starts, all at blindside flanker, as well as six cameos from the bench last season.
Jack van Poortvliet
Van Poortvliet’s emergence for Leicester over the past year has been so accomplished that it would not have been altogether surprising to see him involved in England’s summer fixtures against USA and Canada.
As it happened, both he and Sale Sharks scrum-half Raffi Quirke remained in the age-group ranks for the Six Nations. While the latter suffered an unfortunate injury, Van Poortvliet’s authoritative performances have vindicated the decision.
Captaining the side will have helped hone his leadership skills and evidently did not stifle the opportunism and acceleration that made him a headache for fringe defences.
His jinking run from a quick-tap penalty against Wales, bringing a try under the posts, encapsulated the sniping threat that he has demonstrated at senior level.
The man himself attributes his attacking improvements to better scanning of defences prior to arriving at breakdowns. According to Van Poortvliet, Ben Youngs and Richard Wigglesworth have been a big help in that regard. And he could not ask for a better pair to guide his kicking game.
While he values those senior colleagues, Van Poortvliet will be attempting to oust them from Leicester’s match-day squads more regularly next season. Do not bet against it.
Injury ended Brantingham’s tournament two games early, but an intriguing background makes his progress from here well worth following.
He spent a significant portion of his early years in rugby league, representing Cramlington Rockets, and Newcastle Falcons’ academy has earned a reputation for developing youngsters in a rounded way.
“They put a huge amount into playing rugby and not getting bogged down in structure,” Brantingham told Telegraph Sport last month. “So much of what they do is about playing to space.
“Even as a forward, they would get you to kick the ball and let you explore the game rather than suffocate you by keeping you doing basic things.”
Scrummaging at senior level brings a notoriously difficult step up, so Brantingham may need to be patient for a couple of seasons.
The abundance of young English fly-halves is impressive enough right now. Marcus Smith, Joe Simmonds, Jacob Umaga and James Grayson have all established themselves as proven Premiership performers.
In this England Under-20 squad, Orlando Bailey was deployed at full-back and produced some spectacular moments. He will have a certain Danny Cipriani for company when he returns to Bath next.
Charlie Atkinson, Umaga’s deputy at Wasps, was another back-up option. The tough teenager spent the recent Six Nations as part of England’s shadow squad.
Smith was first-choice though, and a difficult 2020-21 campaign with Worcester Warriors has evidently bred a sense of calm on the ball. He seems to be a composed, sharp decision-maker with crisp kicking and passing skills.
Jones name-checked him back in March and England were noticeably more assured when Smith entered the fray from the bench against Italy.
England’s back play was not as impressive as the might of their forwards during the Six Nations, but they did boast firepower out wide.
Arthur Relton was named man of the match in the final round and Deago Bailey should enjoy himself as part of Bristol’s expansive phase-play.
Roebuck is the rangiest runner of these three, and picked up five Premiership outings last season for Sale. He also received an under-the-radar call-up to train with England during last year’s Six Nations.
One glimpse of his performance against Italy, when he arced around from the blindside flank to feed Relton with a long-limbed offload, reinforced his promise.