England Under 16s will face an unknown quantity when they take on Italy Under 17s in the first of two internationals during the Easter holiday in Parma on Saturday, April 7.
Italy usually pose a strong physical forward challenge but they had flair behind the scrum when England beat them at Macclesfield 12 months ago.
"Italy usually provide a strong challenge and we hope that our warm-up matches against Leicester and London Wasps Under 17s will have prepared us for that," said England Under 16 lead coach Phil Stanlake.
"But you are never sure what to expect from Italy, or Wales, who we play in our second match. Last year Italy were very strong in the contact areas but they also had some very reliable backs and they caused problems for us than they had in the past. You just don’t know what you are going to face."
England will train at Esher RFC on Wednesday April 4 before flying to Milan in the early hours of April 5.
Their preparations were disrupted by a cold snap in mid-February which led to the cancellation of of the Divisional Festival at Broadstreet and meant that more than 100 players reported for training at the first training camp at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire.
"The weather conditions in February put us on the back foot," Stanlake said. "We had 107 players at the training camp at Stowe because the Divisional Festival was postponed.
"Normally we only have to deal with six disappointed players when the various England squads are named. This year we had to deal with 36 but that process was handled very well by the coaches and management."
In an attempt to catch up the England squad trained on the morning of their match against Leicester Academy Under 17s at Abingdon School last month and they tired in the final quarter of a game they went on to lose.
England were fresher when they played London Wasps Academy Under 17s at St Edward’s School in Oxford last month and they completed their preparations for Italy with a win.
"We identified four themes after the Leicester game and we had three sharp sessions on the Saturday before the Wasps game and the players’ response was very heartening," Stanlake said.
The Italy match will be a first taste of international rugby but five members of the squad – Brett Herron, Stuart Townsend, Max Clark, Lewis Boyce and Jack Walker – have already played for England Under 17s against their counterparts from Scotland.
England’s second international is against Wales Under 16s at Wellington College in Berkshire on April 11 (2.30pm) which will be one of the highlights of this season’s Wellington Festival.
Yorkshire back row forward Tom Burridge, who has been ruled out of the internationals by a broken collarbone, is expected to attend the Wales match with his parents.
“Whenever players are injured they are always included in everything we do,” Stanlake said.
"To be so close to something that is so special is very difficult but we will make sure that Tom is involved in some way."
England Under 16s will select their side to play Italy Under 17s in Parma on Friday, April 6.
England Under 16 squad
Backs: Austin Beckett (St Joseph’s College, Sudbury and Eastern Counties), Max Clark (Bryanston School, North Dorset and Dorset & Wilts), Richard Galloway (Bournemoth GS, Bournemouth and Dorset & Wilts), Brett Herron (Wellington College, London Irish Academy and Berkshire), Will Homer (Sherborne School and Dorset & Wiltshire), Rory Jennings (Bryanston School, Salisbury and Dorset & Wilts), ), Harry Lightfoot-Brown (Claremont Fancourt School, Teddington and Middlesex), Tristan Rawcliffe (Culford School, Colchester and Eastern Counties), Stuart Townsend (Ivybridge Community College, Kingsbridge and Devon),
Forwards: Sebastian Adeniran-Olule (Whitgift School, Sutton & Epsom and Surrey), Charles Beckett (Merchant Taylors’ Crosby, Waterloo and Lancashire), Guy Borrowdale (Tapton School, Sheffield Tigers and Yorkshire), Lewis Boyce (MacMillan Academy, Middlesbrough and Yorkshire), James Catlin (St Gregory’s School Bath, Corsham and Dorset & Wilts), Henry Cheeseman (Whitgift School, Chipstead and Surrey), Jacob Conner (Northampton School for Boys, Old Northamptonians and East Midlands), Will Goodrick-Clarke (Chipping Campden HS, Stow on the Wold and Gloucestershire), Matthew Radley (Arnold School, Fylde and Lancashire), James Thacker (Bishop’s Stortford College, Bishop’s Stortford and Hertfordshire), Jay Tyack (Penair School, Truro and Cornwall), Sam Underhill (Sir Thomas Rich’s School, Longlevens and Gloucestershire), Jack Walker (Settle College, North Ribblesdale and Yorkshire).