- England U18 skipper targets three wins on tour
- “We must try to bully them in the forwards” – Chisholm
Photo: RFU Archive
A maiden Junior World Championship has put some inexorable impetus behind age-group rugby in this country and England Under 18 captain James Chisholm is determined to capitalise on that momentum in South Africa this month.
Chisholm is yet to taste defeat at the helm of John Fletcher’s charges after leading four impressive victories last season – capped by an exceptional 27-22 defeat of France in the final of the FIRA-AER European Championships in front of a hostile Grenoble crowd of 15,000.
Even so, the articulate, assured 17 year-old No.8 is well aware that those results will count for very little in the opposite hemisphere, a notoriously tough environment to perform in.
With a clash against South Africa Schools on August 9 at City Park just outside Cape Town to start the tour before consecutive internationals against France and Wales, Chisholm stressed his side would need to be primed for an arduous start.
“Ever since FIRA finished, everyone has been working really hard with the goal of getting on this tour,” said the former Brighton College pupil. “This will be a massive test of character and in terms of rugby as well.
“As a group, we enjoy each other’s company and run ourselves well. Going away to South Africa can prove that, because our cohesion will really be under the microscope.
“South Africa will look to secure go-forward ball and be really physical like they are at all level. They will defend hard, too. Our main focus has been on meeting them up front but sticking to our own game is going to be crucial – we have to take them on in the forwards and try to bully them.
“We’re definitely going out there to win all three games in the same way we went to FIRA to make the final and win it, but we need to keep our feet on the floor.
“The toughest test is possibly the one we have first up – going down there we are nobodies. Being champions of Europe means absolutely nothing, even less so when it is a few months later in a different country.”
Photo: Getty Images
A keen observer of events over The Channel this summer as Nick Walshe’s England Under 20s made history by securing silverware in Vannes, Chisholm is also aware of the opportunity to make significant points on an individual level next week.
Like Fletcher highlighted on announcing the 26-man travelling party, Junior World Championship winners Ross Moriarty, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Callum Braley and Tom Stephenson all used last summer’s Under 18 programme as a springboard to involvement in the Under 20 set-up a year early.
And while remaining firmly focussed on the collective, Chisholm acknowledged a gilt-edged chance to catch Walshe’s eye.
“I saw a little bit of the JWC and watched the final,” he added. “I thought they’d do it against South Africa in the group stages, so I felt a bit miffed myself when they didn’t.
“It was so great to see them beat New Zealand and then go on to win the final, not even playing that well in the first half and coming back hard. It’s awesome that they’ve become the first team [from England] ever to do it – it must feel so good.
“We’re obviously playing to win as a team [in South Africa], but there’s obviously a lot of opportunity for us to show what they’re worth as individuals and push for next year, perhaps even to go to a Junior World Cup a year young.
“Some guys went to France having been on the Under 18 tour the previous year, so we can really try to emulate them. That way, you get as much experience as possible with the Under 20s.”
A member of the young Harlequins squad that won the Aviva A League in December, Chisholm signed a two-year contract with the 2012 Premiership champions this spring – following in the footsteps of fellow England age-group skipper and back-rower Jack Clifford, whom he has cannily sought out for advice on captaincy during pre-season.
Photo: Getty Images
Another club colleague is elder brother Ross, who doubles up as a housemate alongside newly selected Saxon openside Luke Wallace. As Chisholm admits, there is a robust, well respected platform in place for him to develop under Conor O’Shea. But before that, the task of “leading by example” on Under 18 duty awaits.
“Harlequins is great because the academy and senior guys are linked very closely,” he explains thoughtfully. “I can just look to improve every game technically as well as physically.
“There is the England senior captain in Chris Robshaw, the U20s captain and a lot of boys above me that I can look to learn from. Everyone at the club has got a shared goal. We all want to win trophies – get to the top of the Premiership and retain the A League.
“Living with Luke and Ross has been brilliant – they know the ins and outs and have helped me out a lot over the past couple of weeks in pre-season. It is a really tight-knit group, for sure.
“Seeing as there are a number of world-class eights at the club, the base of the scrum is an area I’d like to improve as much as possible. Learning some tricks of the trade would be nice.
“My defence is a fundamental as well, and the first opportunity I have to put that to the test is in South Africa.”