Ahead of the U20s Nations Cup taking place in England, head coach of the host nation Amanda Bennett, look ahead to the competition which also features USA, Canada and South Africa.
By Amanda Bennett
So as the bruises heal after another U20s training camp, players, coaches and all the support staff now turn our attention to our most significant event of the season – the U20s Nations Cup. This was no mid-season camp of course as this was the last opportunity we had to fine tune, bond and prepare for the unique experience that is championship rugby. Whether it is a 7s World Cup, European Championships or an age group tournament, it is a rarefied environment and ultimately there can be only one winner.
The U20s season so far has been one of intense hard work, challenging games, injuries and new talent. No one in an England shirt wants to lose games so our two games against France earlier this year were disappointing from that perspective. However, it’s important to remember that the core purpose of the England U20s programme is to develop players capable of representing England, including at senior 15s and 7s World Cups. So it is always hugely rewarding to see U20s moving into senior rugby and winning full caps having worked their way through the performance pathway.
In recent years, these include Alex Matthews, Hannah Gallagher, Harriet Miller-Mills and Emily Scott, all of whom played against New Zealand in the 2012 3-0 Test series win. #hardworkpaysoff may be a well-used hash tag but for these players, and more before them, it is the truism of their rugby lives and I am always delighted to see U20s succeed when they have committed themselves so fully.
And so to the Nations Cup. What a fantastic opportunity for this year’s crop of young talent to face world level opposition on home soil. The championship will take place at Trent College in Nottingham from July 8-22 and this group of players will be living, training and playing together for 15 days with very little real down time. I’m sure for some people living with 26 teenagers for two weeks is their vision of Hell, however it can also be the best learning and growing experience for a young person and for many they will learn as much about themselves as they do their team mates. With 7 brand new faces in the squad, there will be much to do to ensure we all gel quickly.
Our Nations Cup goal? To win. It has to be. Why not? It is what we want more than anything. Everyone needs an inspiring, aspirational goal to wake up to each day and to drive ourselves when it would be easier not to. No doubt South Africa, USA and Canada will all turn up with the same aspirations but we must trust the programme, the preparation and the players’ talent to make this happen.
There will be injuries, there will be selection dilemmas and there will be on-pitch surprises but for me this will be another wonderful rugby experience. I have recently moved on from my role as Head of Governance with UK Sport to focus on my coaching. It was no easy decision (people keep telling me it was courageous, which is a worry!) but I’d felt unable to give this squad the time and energy it deserved whilst balancing so many other commitments. I can only say that, like good comedy, it’s all about timing, and I have relished the freedom to really dedicate myself to Nations Cup planning and preparation in the same way we expect players to.
Come July 21 when the final whistle is blown, recovery protocols completed, the players have found kit swapping partners and can relax regardless of which nation they represent we will be measured by our performances. This includes wins and losses but also our strategy, our execution and more than anything else, our desire to be the best. I can’t wait…