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England win Under-20 Six Nations: Here are five players to watch out for

England celebrate winning the Under-20s Six Nations

England finished their Under-20 Six Nations with a second thriller in as many weeks, storming back from 21-5 down to beat a free-flowing – and, frankly, huge – France team 45-31 on Friday night in Pau. Following a 32-32 draw with Ireland, who had completed Grand Slams in the previous two years, England landed their first title since 2021 by virtue of having picked up one more bonus point.

Mark Mapletoft’s side will head to South Africa in the summer for the Under-20 World Championship, where they will be in a group with the hosts as well as Argentina and Fiji. As the past few weeks have underlined, they have some exciting talent in their ranks. Here are five stars of the Six Nations triumph.

Archie McParland, scrum-half, Northampton Saints

Previously a fly-half, McParland switched positions prior to lockdown and looks extremely assured. He zips between rucks and slings passes in a similar way to Alex Mitchell, his senior colleague at Northampton. As a mark of how highly he is rated in the East Midlands, McParland made his senior club debut at the age of 17, against London Irish in the Premiership Cup, and has come off the bench twice this league season.

Standing 6ft tall, he has acknowledged that it has been a difficult transition to stoop and service rucks rather than standing at first receiver. Nevertheless, his kicking will have also caught the eye of senior coaches during this Six Nations, while a try in the 28-7 victory over Wales showcased deceptive power. Perhaps most impressive has been his ability to tease fringe defenders away from the breakdown before putting runners through holes. More time with Mitchell will only improve that trait. Having turned 19 in February, McParland has another year at this level as well.

Sean Kerr, inside centre, Harlequins

Several of Mapletoft’s backs have big futures, with the versatile Ben Redshaw of Newcastle Falcons, who featured at full-back, outside centre and wing during the Six Nations, particularly adept at offloading. George Makepeace-Cubitt was selected from Rams in National One, which is an endorsement of that competition and his playmaking, and Ioan Jones bagged a brilliant try from a death-or-glory interception against France.

Sean Kerr, pictured here in Batch earlier this month, and his under-20 team-mates produced yet another entertaining display in Pau, France, on Friday night
Sean Kerr, pictured here in Bath earlier this month, and his under-20 team-mates produced another entertaining display in Pau, France, on Friday night - Getty Images/Bob Bradford

The identity of age-group inside centres has been a source of intrigue and Kerr started four Six Nations matches in that role. He was generally excellent from the tee and ended the tournament with 40 points, including a try in Edinburgh as he slipped past two Scotland defenders in the corner.

A well-balanced, penetrative carrier, Kerr was born in Johannesburg and began playing the sport as a five-year-old at Effingham & Leatherhead RFC before joining Sutton & Epsom and then the Harlequins Academy. The million-dollar question now, especially after this summer’s World Championship, is where he picks up senior games. Back in October, there was an appearance at outside centre for Harlequins against Nottingham in the Premiership Cup and Kerr was subsequently loaned out for a National One stint with Richmond. Andre Esterhuizen’s departure from Harlequins will bring about more opportunities, but Lennox Anyanwu has already been name-checked by Steve Borthwick. At 19, Kerr has plenty of time and plenty of promise.

Asher Opoku-Fordjour, prop, Sale Sharks

 “Rare as teddy bear s---” was Alex Sanderson’s verdict on Opoku-Fordjour earlier this season as the Sale Sharks director of rugby hailed an “astonishing” introduction to the first-team ranks. Sanderson also revealed that England see Opoku-Fordjour as a loosehead prop, rather than a tighthead, the position in which he had impressed opposite elite operators such as Joe Marler, Andrew Porter and Cian Healy. Indeed, one of the few adversaries to trouble him in the Premiership or Champions Cup has been Tarek Haffar, the Northampton Saints loosehead who represented England A against Portugal, which bodes well for Steve Borthwick’s front-row succession plans.

Anyway, Opoku-Fordjour picked up where he left off with five Six Nations starts wearing the No 1 shirt. He reinforced his quite extraordinary potential as a scrumagger – it was no shame that England occasionally creaked in France against a colossal pack bolstered by Posolo Tuilagi – and enjoyed some eye-catching touches in the loose as well. Opoku-Fordjour does not turn 20 until July and will aim to develop his jackalling and passing as well as his set-piece nuts and bolts. As an aside, if he continues to scrummage on both sides, he will be an immensely valuable asset.

Finn Carnduff, lock/blindside flanker, Leicester Tigers

At Leicester Tigers, where they know a thing or two about back-five forwards, a senior source regards Carnduff as “a Rolls-Royce of a player”. That proved accurate over the course of this Championship and it was telling that the captain started four games at blindside flanker. Throughout, he looked mobile, tough and skilful. He took 42 line-outs and completed 41 tackles – higher than any England team-mate by both metrics – and scored three tries. His break, complemented by a composed pass, set up Henry Pollock at a crucial juncture of the win in Pau. Carnduff will now compete for further senior game time at Tigers.

At the end of January, for the final quarter of a tense win over Harlequins, he arrived from the bench and was robust and reliable. At 6ft 4in, he may well stay in the back row rather than reverting to lock and is sure to bulk up from his current weight of 105kg either way. That delicate process should not be rushed, as Leicester will know, because Carnduff is a loping runner out wide. Junior Kpoku, Olamide Sodeke and Joe Bailey delivered forceful performances from the second row, with the driving maul a potent weapon. Will Kpoku be brought back to the Premiership from Racing 92? Keep an eye on that situation.

Henry Pollock, openside flanker, Northampton Saints

The hype train has left the station. Good luck calling it back. Pollock delivered on the excited whispers that followed his efforts for England Under-18 and in the Championship for Bedford Blues. At Under-20 level a year early, the openside flanker received three man-of-the-match awards in five outings. He began with a hat-trick in Italy, the second of which was a marauding solo effort from the tail of a maul. Despite the odd moment of over-exuberance – Pollock took a quick-tap penalty against Wales and was turned over after isolating himself – he has generally channelled his tenacity to become a talisman for the team.

Henry Pollock - England win Under-20 Six Nations: Here are five players to watch out for
Henry Pollock has very quickly become a talisman for the England Under-20s - Getty Images/Bob Bradford

A total of 56 carries in the Six Nations was testament to his perseverance because he was well marked yet did not shirk the heavy traffic. Pollock’s reward for that industry was another try in France, which emphasised his speed and support play. Richard Hill, a mentor of prospective England back-rowers, has been in touch with Pollock and will have noted that the teenager completed 39 tackles, second only to Carnduff among his colleagues, as well as mucking in at 33 defensive breakdowns across five appearances. Northampton fans will now want to see more of Pollock in the first team, and more chances will come next season after the departure of Lewis Ludlam.

Nathan Michelow, a graduate of the Saracens academy, moved around the back row with starts at blindside flanker and No 8 in the Six Nations. When it was time to roll his sleeves up in Pau, he was mightily impressive.

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