Three Leicester Tigers players are included in the matchday squad for England’s opening game in this season’s Under-20s Six Nations.
James Whitcombe starts at loosehead for the first-round match, away to France at the Stade des Alpes in Grenoble this Saturday, February 1 (kick-off 8.00pm UK time), with club colleagues Jack van Poortvliet and Freddie Steward named among the replacements.
The Keighley-born prop is one of nine players included in the starting XV making a first appearance at this level. Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Maunder will captain the side from scrum-half.
England U20s are led by head coach Alan Dickens, supported by James Tirrell (attack) and Alex Codling (forwards).
“There is a huge challenge ahead for us on Saturday against a France side who are back-to-back World Rugby U20 Champions and they will be under pressure to perform in front of their home supporters,” said Dickens.
“I’ve coached teams to play in France before and this will be a great experience for the players. It is usually a hostile atmosphere, they are hugely patriotic when it comes to rugby, and we are expecting no different in Grenoble.
“We need to have the ability to adapt, games of rugby are won by the team that can tactically adapt during the 80 minutes and that has been a big focus for us.
“Ultimately, though, you always have to go back to why we play rugby and that is for enjoyment and I want the players to remember that on Saturday night. If we enjoy it, get our processes right we will get the result.
“The attitude, skill level and commitment of the players in the time we’ve had together has been fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing them put all that hard work into an 80-minute performance on Saturday.”
England U20s team to play France (Saturday, February 1, kick-off 8.00pm UK time)
15 Josh Hodge (Newcastle Falcons)
14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb (Bath Rugby)
13 Connor Doherty (Sale Sharks)
12 Max Ojomoh (Bath Rugby)
11 Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks)
10 Manu Vunipola (Saracens)
9 Sam Maunder (c) (Exeter Chiefs)
1 James Whitcombe (Leicester Tigers)
2 Theo Dan (Saracens)
3 Luke Green (London Irish)
4 George Hammond (Harlequins)
5 Ben Donnell (London Irish)
6 JJ Tonks (Northampton Saints)
7 Richard Capstick (Exeter Chiefs)
8 Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs)
16 Ben Atkins (London Irish)
17 Emmanuel Iyogun (Northampton Saints)
18 Harvey Beaton (Saracens)
19 Hugh Tizard (Harlequins)
20 Jack Clement (Gloucester Rugby)
21 Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers)
22 George Barton (Gloucester Rugby)
23 Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers)
England U20s Six Nations Fixtures
France v England
Saturday, February 1, kick-off 8.00pm GMT, Stade des Alpes, Grenoble
Scotland v England
Friday February 7, kick-off 7.30pm GMT, Myreside, Edinburgh
England v Ireland
Friday, February 21, kick-off 7.45pm GMT, Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
England v Wales
Friday, March 6, kick-off 7.45pm GMT, Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester
Italy v England
Sunday, March 15, kick-off 5.30pm GMT, Payanini Rugby Center, Verona