Six Nations: England U20s win opener

The 2018 Six Nations are underway (pic: George Phillipou/TGS Photo)

The 2018 Six Nations are underway (pic: George Phillipou/TGS Photo) - Credit: George Phillipou/TGS Photo

England U20s opened the defence of their Six Nations title with a 27-17 bonus-point victory over Italy.

They had the narrowest of leads at the break, taking a one-point advantage into half-time thanks to James Grayson’s penalty and a try from Saracens’ Ben Earl.

However, second-half tries from Ben White, Tom Parton and Ben Loader, as well as two conversions from Grayson, stretched the lead and although Italy were awarded a late penalty try England sealed the win.

For several of England’s players, Friday’s game marked their debut with the U20s with Toby Trinder, James Scott, Sam Moore, Tom Willis, Fraser Dingwall, White and Loader all winning their first caps.

For Grayson it was his first start and it was his boot that scored the first points of the game with Italy penalised for offside.

England had their first try of the game, catching and driving a lineout for Earl to bundle over off the back of the maul but they could not convert pressure into points from there on in.

On the stroke of half time a succession of penalties took Italy to England’s corner and after several attempts they finally crashed over to score a try through Matteo Canali, which Antonio Rizzi converted.

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England were held up shortly after the break, but from the resulting scrum White eventually found space to dart through for his first try for England U20s. Grayson converted to take England out to a 15-7 lead.

Soon after, Parton scored a superb individual try collecting an up-and-under from just inside Italy’s half before searing through and touching down under the posts with Grayson again adding the extras.

Canali reduced the deficit to 22-10 with a penalty just before the hour mark but a fine Loader try in the corner after quick handling by England’s three-quarters sent the wing over for the bonus point.

Late on Gabriel Oghre, Sam Lewis, Josh Basham, Tom Hardwick and Jordan Olowofela all came on, meaning 12 players made their debuts.

Lewis was sin binned with nine minutes remaining as was Earl late on as Italy were awarded a penalty try for a collapsed maul, but victory was secured with England next facing Wales in the tournament.

Head coach Steve Bates said: “It was a really credible performance in difficult conditions.

“We’ve scored four tries, two of them from really well-worked moves. We fought hard and dominated the game territorially. I thought it was a really good start.

“The starting 15 laid a fantastic foundation, which allowed us to make a number of replacements, and give a lot of players their debut and conserve some bodies for next Friday.

“This is a squad full of talented players and selecting a starting 15 has not been easy and the replacements that came on did a really good job.

“We’ll recover now after what was a tough and physical game, we’ll analyse this match and look to go back to our principals of playing high-intensity, high-tempo rugby which are important to us, but what we did today was a good foundation for us to go on in the tournament.”

England: 15 Tom Parton (London Irish), 14 Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins), 13 Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), 12 Will Butler (Worcester Warriors), 11 Ben Loader (London Irish), 10 James Grayson (Northampton Saints), 9 Ben White (Leicester Tigers); 8 Tom Willis (Wasps), 7 Ben Earl (Saracens, captain), 6 Sam Moore (Sale Sharks), 5 James Scott (Worcester Warriors), 4 Dino Lamb (Harlequins), 3 Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), 2 Henry Walker (Gloucester), 1 Toby Trinder (Northampton Saints). Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre (Wasps), 17 Alex Seville (Gloucester), 18 Joe Morris (Worcester Warriors), 19 Sam Lewis (Leicester Tigers), 20 Josh Basham (London Irish), 21 Rory Brand (London Irish), 22 Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), 23 Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers).