England Under-20 coach Martin Haag believes the Aviva Premiership Rugby starlets in his ranks will give the entire squad the belief they can be top dogs at this month’s World Rugby Under-20 Championship.
Captains and coaches from all 12 teams met up in Manchester’s Town Hall after meeting with newly appointed Lord Mayor, Carl Austin-Behan, ahead of the tournament which kicks off tomorrow.
Haag only took over the squad after this year’s Under-20 Six Nations in March, having left his job as head coach of Championship side Nottingham.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, it doesn’t come around very often, so we’ve got to be excited about it,” he said.
“For us it’s about getting to a level of play and standard that we aspire to in front of our friends, family and supporters, and that’s huge.
“Those that come and support us will make a huge difference, we want to put that England shirt on and make everyone proud of our performances, and if we do that, we’ll be very happy come the end of it.”
England open up their title bid against their Italian counterparts on June 7, who they defeated 42-7 during the Under-20 Six Nations, before a shot at redemption against John Dalziel’s Scottish charges at the Manchester City Academy Stadium on June 11.
Scotland Under-20 rocked the English 24-6 at Broadwood in February, but Haag is boosted by the return of his Aviva Premiership players – unavailable to play in the Under-20 Six Nations – which saw England Under-20 finish in a worst-ever fifth place.
They will face another stern test in their final group game against Australia Under-20 at the AJ Bell Stadium on June 15 as they look to win the tournament for a third time.
Having won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 – under the captaincy of Harlequins’ Jack Clifford and Saracens’ Maro Itoje respectively – Haag will be hoping his charges can emulate South Africa in 2012, who are the only hosts to win on home turf.
“The players have been really impressive in terms of their attitude and work-rate and they’re pulling together really nicely,” Haag explained.
“We’ve got some future stars. Guys like Joe Marchant and Harry Mallinder coming back into the squad who have great experience in terms of what they’ve done in the Aviva Premiership this year.
“They will hopefully impact on some of the others and certainly give them a bit of belief and enthusiasm in terms of what they can achieve.
“But this is a team sport and for us to do well as a team we need everyone playing to the best of their ability.”
Former Bath Rugby player, Haag, downplayed his importance as a coach, emphasising instead the maturity of his starlets.
He said: “The players drive it, the coach is always smaller than the players and makes sure that they’re in the right environment.
“We’re trying to develop these guys on a daily basis and make small improvements that will help them in the long-term; we’re not just about the here and now.”
The tournament hopes to launch the future stars of rugby onto further success, with over 370 Under-20 graduates having gone on to senior international level, including Itoje, Clifford, Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell who were all part of England’s 2016 RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam winning side.
Games will be played at Sale Sharks' AJ Bell Stadium, as well the Manchester City Academy stadium, with Sky Sports broadcasting over half the matches live.
See the Future Stars of Rugby at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester this June. For more information, including how to buy tickets, visit http://www.englandrugby.com/u20championships/ #WorldRugbyU20s