Bright young things
April 5, 2012
Elliot Daly kicked Wasps to victory on Sunday against Gloucester and looks set for a bright future © Getty Images
It's April 4, 1998. An 18-year-old steps onto the Twickenham turf for the first time in an England shirt, in the unfamiliar position of wing. The teenager is Jonny Wilkinson, and what he will achieve in the game is the stuff of legend.
With Stuart Lancaster now secure in the coaching hot-seat, this week's Scrum Sevens looks at a group of youngsters - yet to make their debut for the national side - who might just be hopeful of pulling on the red rose sooner rather than later.
Lancaster highlighted a few of them in his post-Six Nations briefing and with the Rugby World Cup on home turf in three years time, they will all be dreaming of replicating Wilkinson's success and lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup.
Elliot Daly - London Wasps
The 19-year-old centre could well have kept the beleaguered Adams Park side in the Premiership with his stunning late penalty to give Wasps a 26-24 win over Gloucester on Sunday. With a burgeoning reputation off the back of a series of impressive performances for the England Under-20 side and a recent wonder try for Wasps' second-string, Daly could go far for both club and country.
With fellow centre Riki Flutey set for pastures new, Daly needs an experienced head next to him in the side to aid his development. Chris Bell could offer that when he returns from injury, while Dom Waldouck is already a seasoned veteran at Wasps despite being only 24-years-old. Other centres who may have their eyes set on the berth in the national side include London Irish's Jonathan Joseph and Harlequins' Charlie Walker.
George Ford - Leicester Tigers
Ford is already being mentioned in the same breath as current England half-back Owen Farrell and Lancaster faces the enjoyable task of trying to find a way to fit both into his side. The 19-year-old guided Leicester Tigers to Anglo-Welsh Cup glory this season with a series of performances way beyond his tender years.
Fly-half is one position where England look to be blessed. Gloucester's Freddie Burns and Bath's Tom Heathcote have boosted their reputations as quality young playmakers this term and they will hope to gatecrash Ford and Farrell's path to the 2015 World Cup party.
Jamie George - Saracens
Vying with Schalk Brits and John Smit for a spot in the Saracens side is no easy task but hooker George is tipped for bright things. While England have an embarrassment of riches at fly-half and in the back-row, their hooking department is arguably in need of fresh blood.
Dylan Hartley is first choice, but after him it's all to play for in the pecking order. Bath's Lee Mears is the wrong side of 30 and while Rob Webber has shone this season for Wasps he will have to bed in at his new side, also Bath, this summer. Lancaster may therefore look to George for England's autumn internationals as back-up to Hartley. He has already played in 26 Premiership matches and is built in the modern-day mould necessary for a hooker.
Matt Kvesic - Worcester Warriors
Genuine openside 'fetchers' are a rare breed in English rugby but 19-year-old Kvesic fits the bill. In a similar manner to Bath's Guy Mercer, Kvesic has a solid low centre of gravity and the ability to snaffle up turnovers and loose ball with ease.
He cut his teeth at age-group level for England and has already accrued 13 Premiership appearances for the Warriors. Richard Hill has refrained from completely unleashing Kvesic this season, but expect fireworks from him next term and a good shout for a spot in the 2015 World Cup squad. He will, however, face stiff competition from Harlequins' Luke Wallace and Northampton Saints' Lewis Moody lookalike Ben Nutley for the No.7 shirt.
Joe Launchbury - London Wasps
At home in the back or second-row, Launchbury offers everything you want from a versatile forward - he's quick, powerful, possesses a good rugby brain and is solid around the breakdown. And he's just 20-years-old.
Lancaster has already shown faith in the second-row after he called him into the England squad prior to their clash with Ireland. While Launchbury was released to his club side at the end of the week, it is clear that the England coach is preparing the Wasps star for a future international career.
Also warming the hearts of any England doubters out there was Wasps' back-row against Gloucester on Sunday. All three were 20-years-old or younger and England qualified - Launchbury started alongside monster No.8 Billy Vunipola and Sam Jones.
Mako Vunipola - Saracens
The huge prop switched from Bristol to the Premiership champions at the end of last season and has the perfect mentor in the guise of former Italian international Carlos Nieto. He has been restricted to just six substitute appearances for Sarries this season but has also turned out for Bedford in the Championship in a dual-registration agreement.
Dan Cole shone in the recent Six Nations for England at tight-head and Vunipola will need a whole season of Premiership action to highlight his international credentials, but he has all the attributes needed to succeed at the highest level. Another prop who may be in Lancaster's sights for the future is Harlequins and England Under-20's Kyle Sinckler. Sale's Henry Thomas - who has succumbed to injury this term - is also one to watch.
Anthony Watson - London Irish
Aged just 18, Watson already has England Under-20 caps to his name and a lone Premiership appearance. He has lit up schools and age group rugby with his blistering pace and notorious sidestep. Toby Booth has an embarrassment of riches on the wing at the Exiles, with Topsy Ojo, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Marland Yarde on his books, but Watson has every chance of surpassing any of them in the pecking order next season.
If the likes of Chris Ashton continue to flounder on the wing then Lancaster has an array of young flyers to pick from. Gloucester's Ian Clark, Harlequins' Sam Smith, Bath's Olly Woodburn and Saracens' James Short all look to have bright futures on the flank.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.