Atkins to make England U20 debut in Manchester

6 June 2016

Bath Rugby Academy back Darren Atkins will make his England U20 debut against Italy in their opening game of the World Rugby U20 Championship at the Manchester City Academy Stadium tomorrow (19.45).

Atkins is one of four players in the match day 23 making his debut at this level, alongside Harry Mallinder, Theo Brophy-Clews and Billy Walker in the starting line-up.

Jack Walker, who joins Bath Rugby next season, is named on the bench, as is Atkins' Bath Rugby Academy teammate, back rower Zach Mercer. Mallinder will captain the side and Jack Singleton, who scored four tries against Italy in the Six Nations, starts at hooker.

The squad gathered in Manchester on Friday and after several intensive training sessions, England coach (and renowned former Bath Rugby player and coach) Martin Haag - is pleased with the progress that the squad has made ahead of their home tournament.

“Training has been fantastic,” said Haag.  “The boys have really bought into what we are trying to achieve on the field but I’m also really pleased with how they are gelling as a squad off it. When you come together with players and staff from all different rugby backgrounds it can sometimes be hard to gel quickly but we have a real sense of togetherness and an incredible team spirit. I’m delighted with how the first couple of days have gone but the real test is how we perform in games and the squad can’t wait to get started.” 

England face Italy, Scotland and Australia in the pool stages but have kept the focus on themselves and their identity in how they want to play.

“We have done our analysis on Italy but the priority in training has been what we can do as a team, how we constantly improve and drive standards.  We want our play to have its own identity and have concentrated on that. We know that Italy are going to be stronger than they were in the Six Nations and will pose us some real questions but we are also looking forward to reacting to the opportunities we get through both attack and defence.

“We have three tough games and want to start well in the tournament so have selected on form and fitness as we manage players over what will be a demanding few weeks.  When you watch the training levels and see the intensity it is incredibly competitive, which is what we want, and there are a number of young guys who will benefit from having this playing opportunity early in the tournament.”

Walker brings the experience of two previous World Rugby U20 Championships and is supported by a leadership group which includes vice captains Harry Mallinder and Theo Brophy-Clews.

“If you look at any good team they have leaders in all areas of the field and that’s what this U20 squad offers.  For this game, with Jack on the bench, Harry will start as captain and be supported by Theo.  We encourage a player led environment on and off the field and have an excellent leadership group who are central to this. 

"We have some natural vocal leaders, often those making the tactical decisions on the field, but we also have those who make an impact on the group in the way they lead by their actions, constantly driving the intensity and work rate.  We have a good blend of individual strengths that are combining well together and we’re looking forward to seeing them take that onto the field tomorrow.”

Tickets for this game are available to purchase on the gate at the Manchester City Academy Stadium and coverage will be live on Sky Sports.

England squad to play Italy:

1. Tom West (Wasps)

2. Jack Singleton (Worcester Warriors)

3. Billy Walker (Saracens)

4. Andrew Kitchener (Worcester Warriors)

5. Huw Taylor (Worcester Warriors)

6. George Nott (Sale Sharks)

7. Jack Willis (Wasps)

8. Callum Chick (Newcastle Falcons)
15. Darren Atkins (Bath Rugby)
14. Sam Aspland-Robinson (Harlequins)

13. Joe Marchant (Harlequins)

12. Harry Mallinder (Capt.) (Northampton Saints)

11. Ollie Thorley (Gloucester Rugby)

10. Theo Brophy-Clews (London Irish)

9. Max Green (Yorkshire Carnegie)


16. Jack Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie)

17. Lewis Boyce (Yorkshire Carnegie)

18. Will Stuart (Wasps)

19. Zach Mercer (Bath Rugby)

20. Josh Bainbridge (Yorkshire Carnegie)

21. Harry Randall (Gloucester Rugby)

22. Johnny Williams (London Irish)

23. Max Malins (Saracens)

England Pool B fixtures:

England v Italy (Tuesday 7 June) KO 19:45, Manchester City Academy Stadium

England v Scotland (Saturday 11 June) KO 18:00, Manchester City Academy Stadium

England v Australia (Wednesday 15 June) KO 19:45 AJ Bell Stadium

Semi-finals and knock-out matches (Monday 20 June) Details TBC

Final and knock-out games (Saturday 25 June) Details TBC

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