- New team offers fresh incentive
- England shirt will reward cream of counties
English rugby union at Under 20 level has received a major boost with the creation of an England Counties U20 side which will offer international recognition for aspiring players from the National Under 20 Championship.
The new side will mirror the raison d’etre of the senior England Counties XV created in 2002 by offering a tangible reward at the end of the National Championship programme.
While the elite player development pathway is clearly defined and supports young players who have signalled their exceptional ability from an early age at clubs, schools and academies, this new development is another boost for players from the Community Game.
Although England Counties XV was never intended to be part of the player development programme, it has undoubtedly proved a fruitful initiative. Shaun Perry, Dean Schofield, David Strettle and Ben Foden have all gone on from the Counties XV to play for the England Senior XV, while Strettle, James Rodwell and Nick Royle have all made an impact with the England Sevens team.
The list of players graduating into the Aviva Premiership via the Counties XV is also extensive.
The England Counties Under 20 squad will be selected on the back of performances in the National Under 20 Championship and two Divisional Trial matches which will take place following the conclusion of the Championship pool stages.
The North will meet the Midlands at Morley RFC, Leeds on Saturday April 2, 2011, while the following day London & SE will face the South West at Clifton RFC.
The England Counties U20 will face Scotland U20s on Friday, May 6, 2011 at West Park Leeds RFC.
“The introduction of the England Counties U20 team brings a real focus to the National U20 Championship,” says Manager Malcolm Ross, RFU Council representative for Leicestershire: “The aim is to help inspire local players to represent their counties in the championship by giving them a chance to wear an England shirt.
“We believe the addition of a local-to-national pathway for players competing in the National U20 Championship is a significant step forward in recognising the importance of this age group and the role of the competition in retaining these players in the game.
“There is no doubt that pulling on an England shirt and competing at international level has meant a great deal to the senior Counties XV players, in most cases because it has been the pinnacle of their rugby careers, although for a very gifted few, it has been the stepping stone to better things.
“Hopefully for our players, winning an England shirt will also be a major milestone in their rugby careers and an inspiration which takes them onwards and upwards.
In order to accommodate the introduction of the representative side into the season, there will be no national Quarter-Final stages in the National U20 Championship. Instead each division will produce one semi finalist, with that stage of the competition being played on April 16.
The final will be held at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday, May 14, 2011.