- Ford, Nowell, Watson and Slater train with England ahead of RBS 6 Nations
- Watch the new faces at their best this season
Photo: Getty Images
Having starred for England’s Under 20 side for the past three years, George Ford, Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell have been on Stuart Lancaster’s radar for a long time. Indeed, the latter pair were a prominent part of last summer’s first ever Junior World Championship triumph in Vannes.
After shining throughout the age-group system, this trio’s simultaneous promotion into the full squad for the imminent RBS 6 Nations is both a mark of the tangible pathway between junior and elite rugby in this country and a just reward for some fine displays for their clubs.
While not winning the same representative honours in his youth, Ed Slater has been an outstanding mainstay of the Leicester Tigers pack since rocketing to recognition in 2010.
Equally comfortable at lock or blindside flanker, he would have toured South America last summer but for aggravating a triceps problem in the Aviva Premiership final win over Northampton Saints. And though injuries have seen Tigers falter this term, his form has remained excellent.
Here are four games so far this season that have produced stellar performances from these new faces.
Anthony Watson – Worcester Warriors 6-21 Bath Rugby, Sixways, November 1, 2013
Torrid conditions and a heavy pitch in the West Midlands did not provide the ideal platform for Watson to showcase his electric running and natural ability to beat defenders – far from it. Instead, we saw the tougher side of this precocious 19 year-old.
Deployed at full back, he made an improbable try-saving tackle on Warriors wing Dean Hammond in the first half that demonstrated canny positioning and impressive strength – eventually proving crucial in a tight win for his side.
Despite the rain-saturated surface, the teenager also used his pace on more than one occasion to get Bath out of tight corners and helped force the turnover that allowed Horacio Agulla to kill off Worcester.
Jack Nowell – Exeter Chiefs 9-14 Toulon, Sandy Park, December 7, 2013
This David vs. Goliath Heineken Cup tie pitted Rob Baxter’s Chiefs against the European champions led by Jonny Wilkinson. And, in the same manner that they have defied belief and budgets in recent years, the hosts gave their illustrious opponents a genuine scare.
Nobody epitomised the Devon outfit’s pluckiness more than young Nowell, who banished memories of an early error to light up the contest. He made 90 metres from 15 carries, beating an astonishing tally of seven defenders in the process.
Only denied what would have been a decisive score by the burly figure of Mathieu Bastareaud, Nowell also made a last-gasp tackle on Rudi Wulf – earning a tweet of respect from Brian Habana after a trademark Wilkinson drop-goal had edged the overwhelming favourites over the line.
Ed Slater – Leicester Tigers 30-23 Sale Sharks, Welford Road, December 28, 2013
Hurting from a 49-10 thrashing at the hands of Saracens the previous weekend, Leicester needed to bounce back immediately with their season in genuine danger of unravelling.
Thankfully for Richard Cockerill’s East Midlanders, Slater was in the mood to right some wrongs, and helped secure a morale-boosting victory with a characteristic all-action showing.
Bundling over for an early try after latching onto fly half Owen Williams’ off-load, Slater clocked up 43 metres – a stunning figure for a lock – and used his six foot seven-inch frame to fabulous effect by snaring eight takes at the lineout.
George Ford – Leicester Tigers 27-27 Bath Rugby, Welford Road, January 4, 2014
Given Toby Flood’s impending move across The Channel to the Top 14, Sunday was a perfect time to give Lancaster a nudge. At the home of his former club, Ford delivered.
Undoubtedly aided by his fearsome pack, the fly half caused constant problems for the Tigers, first flinging the wide pass that spark Watson’s score before laying on two more for Francois Louw and Jonathan Joseph.
Though Leicester typically battled back to force a thrilling draw, Ford’s all-round effort – he also kicked 12 points – underlined his standing as a Test match prospect.