- England U18 prepare for Five Nations festival
- John Fletcher focused on moulding latest crop
As England U18s embark on the Five Nations festival they need not look far for inspiration on the pathway to success.
Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Jack Clifford, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi, Elliot Daly - Grand Slam winners and all England U18 graduates.
One of the people tasked with moulding the next crop of Grand Slam winners from England’s U18 set-up is John Fletcher who says he is “super excited” by the young players in this country.
“The aim is for the next guys breaking through is to be better – that’s how we work,” said Fletcher.
FOCUS ON PERFORMANCE
Those “next guys” will experience tournament rugby over the coming weeks with the Five Nations festival starting on 24 March. England will take on Ireland in their first game in a tournament that Fletcher says is “100 per cent about performance”.
“We just focus on getting better and playing well,” he said. “Trying to stick to the principles of play and then we’ll look at the scoreboard and see where we are.”
Fletcher will use up to 35 players and highlighted the importance of a large player-base which he intends to rotate throughout U18 competition phase of the pathway.
“Everyone will get fairly similar opportunities.”
For England's Under 18s the Five Nations festival is part of a broader competitive programme which has already seen them play three internationals against France, Scotland and Wales.
HOUSE OF C.A.R.D.S
How do you become the next Itoje? Fletcher explains it is about what you do off the pitch as well as on it.
“We have a framework of performance that has the player’s tactical ability in the middle and then we support that with the physical and behavioural skills.
“We have an anagram called CARDS which stands for Creativity, Awareness, Resilience, Decision making and Self-organisation,” explains Fletcher.
“We want creative players who are self-aware and aware of others. Clearly they need to demonstrate resilience and decision making in the game and self-organisation on or off the pitch. They are the main skills - that is the main push within the pathway.”
So how much pride does Fletcher feel when seeing players come through the ‘pathway’ and into the senior side? Itoje, Paul Hill and Clifford for example all made their international debuts in this year’s RBS 6 Nations and played under Fletcher.
Fletcher also brought George Ford and Owen Farrell through the age-groups but explains the challenge is always there to continue producing world-class players.
“I’m not sure it is pride, I’m just pleased for the players,” he said.
“You are so flat out working with the next group of players to be perfectly honest. If you’ve influenced or helped support that player then great but clearly we are busy cracking on with the next group.”
PAINT A PICTURE
Fletcher and his coaching team are also well aware of their responsibility in helping all of the players achieve their dream of turning professional and progressing through the pathway.
The ultimate aim is for them to play international rugby for England and that is not lost on him.
“The number one priority is to support them to reach their potential,” he says.
“It’s important we paint the picture about what it really looks like at the very top.”
England's senior side have just painted a masterpiece, now Fletcher’s U18s have a blank canvas in which to create their own.
England’s Match Schedule - U18 5 Nations International Series:
England face Ireland at SGS College on 24 March, 1pm, streamed live on englandrugby.com.
Scotland v England U18 at Ystrad Mynach - 2.30pm
England A v Italy at St Helen - 2.30pm
Wales v England U18 - 7.15pm