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Young pair look to kick on in South Africa

A pair of Leicester Tigers Academy players say their call-ups to England’s Under-18s tour of South Africa this summer will serve as another opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage.

Back-rower Emeka Ilione and scrum-half Sam Edwards – alongside Academy team-mates Kit Smith and Archie Vanes – have been named by England U18s head coach Jim Mallinder in a 26-strong squad for this summer’s International Series, which will see the side face Argentina, France and South Africa Schools as part of the annual development tour.

“Now we need to kick on even more.”

Sam Edwards

All four are preparing for a second year in the Tigers Academy following impressive debut campaigns in 2018/19, which saw the side lift the U18 League title for a second successive season.

“It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point,” Ilione said. “But I said at the start of the year that if I played well, and completed all of my development plan, that I’d be knocking on the door.

“An international call-up is just a nice way to end the year and shows I’ve actually reached the targets that I’ve set.

“For me, it’s just another opportunity to test myself against the best in another country and as an experience to see how other countries play – it’ll be good to compare and see what I can learn.”

The four players are the latest in a long line of young Tigers to have earned international recognition even before reaching their 18th birthdays, following on from now senior squad members Joe Heyes and Tommy Reffell in 2017, and development fly-half Sam Costelow last summer.

Edwards explained: “You look at the other guys like Joe and Tommy and realise how cool it is to get a call-up, but it’s also important to stay grounded, as well.

“Getting the email [from England] was a really nice moment, and it’s nice that we’ve got a good group going on tour.

“Me and Emeka have trained with each other since we were young, so we’ve always pushed to try and get to this level – and now we need to kick on even more.”

“It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point.”

Emeka Ilione

And, with a large crop of last year’s title-winning Academy squad moving up to development level for 2019/20, Ilione and Edwards now find themselves as two key leaders in the group under new head coach Matt Smith.

“We’ve all stepped up this year,” Ilione explained, when asked about Tigers’ pre-season preparations. “We’ve all taken on leadership responsibilities within the group.

“Everyone’s just constantly trying to get better, and if that means you’re occasionally in the position to help motivate the squad, then you do it.”