Rugby: Saracens quartet in England U20 squad
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Four Saracens youngsters have been named in the 32-man squad by England under-20s head coach Alan Dickens for the 2020 campaign.
Manu Vunipola is one of eight players already capped at this level, while clubmate Sam Crean is one of three players to have not yet represented their country at age grade level.
They are joined by fellow Saracens Harvey Beaton and Theodore Dan in a squad that will compete in the U20 Six Nations Championships which start next month, as well as the World Rugby U20 Championships in Italy this summer.
The squad will convene at Bisham Abbey on Sunday (January 5) to continue preparations for their first Six Nations fixture, as England start their campaign against France in Grenoble on February 1.
England's player pathway programme is a vital development tool for future full international rugby and of the 31 players selected in England's 2019 Rugby World Cup squad, 81 per cent played for England U20s, 77 per cent for England U18s, while 87 per cent came through a club academy.
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Dickens said: "Players have been selected through a combination of their performances last year and displays in domestic and European competitions this season.
"It's been encouraging to see a number of the group playing Premiership, Champions Cup and Challenge Cup rugby and I believe we've selected a really strong 32 for our elite player squad.
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"We also have a wider squad that we know will contribute and be crucial during the Six Nations as well as the World Rugby U20 Championship and my message to those players not in the 32 would be to stay fit and engaged with everything we are doing.
"I want to see the players arrive in camp on Sunday with a desire to learn, improve and take in a high level of detail. We have less than a month to bond as a squad before our first Six Nations fixture so getting them to gel will be a key challenge for the players as well as management team.
"I also want players to enjoy themselves. Being selected for England at any level is a proud moment in their careers and they should remember that. Hopefully, this is the next step in their ultimate dream of playing for the senior side.
"Some of this group will have experienced the Six Nations last year and know how special a competition it is, with fixtures against some of England's great rivals. Crucially though, it prepares them for what they will experience as and when they make the next step into the senior side so it is a critical phase in their development as an England player.
"These players need to be aware that next step is not too far away and relish this opportunity. We've had our first camp in November which was a really positive experience. It was made even more positive for the players when Eddie Jones was able to come in and deliver a session and that had a really powerful impact on them. This is a stepping stone to senior international rugby and we continue our preparations in a few days' time."
Squad, forwards: Alfie Barbeary (Wasps Rugby), Harvey Beaton (Saracens), Richard Capstick (Exeter Chiefs), Jack Clement (Gloucester Rugby), Sam Crean (Saracens), Theodore Dan (Saracens), Ben Donnell (London Irish), Rob Farrar (Newcastle Falcons), Josh Gray (Gloucester Rugby), Luke Green (London Irish), George Martin (Leicester Tigers), Nahum Merigan (Bath Rugby), Hugh Tizard (Harlequins), JJ Tonks (Northampton Saints), Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs), James Whitcombe (Leicester Tigers); backs: George Barton (Gloucester Rugby), Joe Carpenter (Sale Sharks), Tom Curtis (Sale Sharks), Connor Doherty (Sale Sharks), Gabriel Hamer-Webb (Bath Rugby), Will Haydon-Wood (Newcastle Falcons), Noah Heward (Worcester Warriors), Josh Hodge (Newcastle Falcons), Max Ojomoh (Bath Rugby), Sam Maunder (Exeter Chiefs), Raphael Quirke (Sale Sharks), Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks), Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints), Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers), Jack Van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers), Manu Vunipola (Saracens).
Six Nations fixtures: France v England (Saturday, February 1, 8pm, Stade des Alpes, Grenoble): Scotland v England (Friday February 7, 7.30pm, Myreside, Edinburgh); England v Ireland (Friday, February 21, 7.45pm, Franklin's Gardens, Northampton): England v Wales (Friday, March 6, 7.45pm Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester); Italy v England (Sunday, March 15, 5.30pm, Payanini Rugby Center, Verona).