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To some Joe Cokanasiga, the Curry twins, Nick Isiekwe and Jack Maunder may have been unfamiliar names in England’s squad for this summer’s senior tour of Argentina, but to the RFU’s international performance coaches they are players they have worked with for years in their journey through the pathway.
Crucial to that journey through the performance pathway and into senior rugby was the England U18 summer development tour in South Africa.
It is an annual tour that takes England out of the northern hemisphere and introduces them to a different style of rugby in a very different environment.
The tour is also the first time a lot of the players would have spent abroad in an England rugby camp for a significant period of time.
Saracens forward Isiekwe toured South Africa in 2015 and two years later he was winning a senior England cap against Argentina."One of best and most challenging things I’d done."
“I had the privilege of going on the U18s tour and it was possibly one of best and most challenging things I’d done,” said Isiekwe.
Tom Curry also won a first cap for England on the Argentina tour this summer and he says the experience of touring South Africa last year was important in aiding his rapid rise to prominence.
“The South Africa tour was one of the big turning points for me in terms of learning,” said the Sale flanker.
“Being able to have the coaches experience around constantly for two weeks I learnt so much on and off the field.”
England face South Africa Schools in their opening fixture on Friday 11 August in Cape Town before a match against Wales four days later, and finish their campaign against France on Saturday 19 August in Stellenbosch.
And Curry added: “It’s a big test of character playing in a different environment against different opposition.”
Head coach John Fletcher says the tour in South Africa is significant in their journey to becoming international rugby players.
“It’s important that the players have lots of different opportunities and experiences,” he stated. “That’s where really good learning comes from.“It’s great for the players to experience a different environment, culture and be curious."
“It’s great for the players to experience a different environment, culture and be curious about what South Africa has to offer. We encourage the players to take in the full experience of South Africa, its diverse communities and its rugby.
Led by Fletcher, along with coaches Russell Earnshaw, Mark Luffman and Peter Walton, England U18 have enjoyed an impressive season so far, most recently winning all of their games in April’s International Series in Wales.
“South Africa is the ultimate test at 18s because they are such a physical team,” added Fletcher.
And scrum half Maunder, who won his first senior cap against Argentina this summer, echoed Fletcher’s sentiments.
“Playing South Africa, in South Africa is one of the great rugby challenges and being able to experience this during the 18’s tour gives you a taste of high-quality opposition in a very challenging environment.”
The inclusion of so many players in this summer’s senior squad is testament to the work done by the pathway coaches at various age-grade levels."The purpose of the performance pathway is that we identify and support their development."
And Fletcher admitted it was great see the five players make the leap into senior international rugby this summer.
“It joins up the dots, however that is the purpose of the performance pathway in that we identify and support their development,” he said.
“It’s good for the current U18 group to make them aware that in a relatively short period of time players who are like them and who were sitting in the same chair are now playing for England.
He added: “There is no doubt that there are guys in this squad that will go on and do well in the Premiership and be selected to play for England at some stage.
“From a management point of view it is exciting if we can support the player as he is going through. That is why we work in this area so we can help players.”