As we gear ourselves up for the long-awaited start of the Rugby World Cup, all minds automatically go back to analysis of our 2011 campaign. Whilst the England Senior Squad suffered an embarrassing quarter-final defeat to France in New Zealand, at the surrogate competition – now entitled the Under 20 Rugby World Championship – our Juniors finished runners up in a well fought final which ended 33 – 22 in the All Blacks favour. Captained by Number 8 Alex Grey, the boys in white shirts beat Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and France convincingly to make the final for the third time in the four years since the inaugural tournament in Wales in 2008. With names such as George Ford and Christian Wade gracing the top points and top try scorer leaderboards respectively, the JWC 2011 campaign was a platform for younger players to step up and launch their Senior careers. In this series, we’ll take a look back at each member of England’s 2011 Junior World Championship squad and see which players have successfully made the transition into professional rugby four years down the line.
Where Are They Now: England’s 2011 Junior World Championship Squad
Today, we start with seven of the forwards: Ryan Bower, Will Collier, Henry Thomas, Mako Vunipola, Koree Britton, Rob Buchanan and Mikey Haywood.
Ryan Bower (Leicester Tigers)
Having made his debut for Leicester in 2010, Bower enjoyed two loan spells at Nottingham before being signed for Worcester Warriors in the summer of 2014. He has spent the 2014-15 season at Sixways, where Division One provided him with a chance to shine. He was Worcester’s most-capped player of the season, making 27 appearances across two competitions and scoring two tries, and helped the Warriors to both a British & Irish Cup Win and promotion to the Aviva Premiership. One to watch out for as he is put though his paces back in the Premiership this season.
Will Collier (Harlequins)
Collier’s career since 2011 has been hindered by a string of taxing injuries. He was called up to the England training squad for New Zealand in May 2014, and made the Saxons squad for the first time the same year, but injury prevented him from playing and Tom Mercy was later called up to replace him. This neck injury, which he had obtained in Quins’ January 2014 Heineken Cup victory over Scarlets, eventually put him out for the rest of the season. His development in 2014-15 was also held back as he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in Quin’s Champions Cup victory against Castres in January, again ending his season at the start of the new year. Despite this, he still has 70 caps for the South-West London club and is contracted until 2018, fighting viciously with another bright England prospect – his teammate Kyle Sinckler, for the Number Three quartered jersey.
Henry Thomas (Sale Sharks)
Having captained the Sale Jets in the 2010-11 season, Thomas was first picked for the Senior squad in October 2011, and made 14 Premiership appearances for the club that season. Despite a couple of serious injuries that have severely limited his playing time, Thomas’ performances for Sale during the 2012-13 campaign, which helped ensure their victory in the relegation battle against London Welsh, earned him a call up to the England Saxons Squad. He was also picked for England in the 2013 Six Nations as an injury replacement for Alex Corbisiero, but was not used. He did, however, earn his first two senior caps off the bench during England’s 2013 tour to Argentina, adding to his 5 Junior caps. Since then, in January 2014 he signed for Bath Rugby, and he is contracted at the Rec for the next two years.
Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
Vunipola has gone on to have one of the most accomplished careers of the 2011 WC runners up. His first England call up was to the Saxons squad in September 2012, where he replaced Dave Wilson following his Senior squad promotion. Later that year, he was selected for the Senior squad for the Autumn Internationals, making his debut from the bench against Fiji in November 2012. His first try in a white shirt came soon after, during England’s 52-11 win over Italy. International honours followed with selection to the British and Irish lions for their 2013 tour of Australia, where he played in all three tests. In April this year, alongside his brother Billy – who also plays for England and Saracens – he signed a multi-year contract extension at Allianz Park. The 21-stone Prop gets another chance to shine as he starts this weekend against France for his 21st English cap, as he continues to fight Quins captain Joe Marler for the Number One shirt.
Koree Britton (Gloucester)
Having spent his early professional career at Gloucester, gaining 30 caps in the process for the cherry and whites, Britton spent the 2014-15 season with newly promoted London Welsh, and has recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at the Kassam for the foreseeable future. Although he famously attributed his rugby career as the reason he has been kept “on the straight and narrow”, he was cautioned for voyeurism in March 2014 after filming a woman getting undressed in a swimming pool changing cubicle. He was caught when the woman spotted his mobile camera phone under the door. An unfortunate tarnish on an otherwise promising career.
Rob Buchanan (Harlequins)
Buchanan has spent the last four years at Harlequins, racking up 73 appearances despite the tough challenge of both Joe Gray and Chris Brooker for the number 2 shirt. His contract was extended in 2014 until the end of the 2015-6 season, so he will spend at least another season with the West London club. The 2012-13 season was Buchanan’s most notable breakthrough period, securing the starting position for the first time at Quins, and solidifying his place as first choice hooker when he was selected to start their Heineken Cup quarter final bid against Munster. The same year, he was also selected in the England squad for their summer tour of Argentina.
Mikey Haywood (Northampton Saints)
Haywood has spent the last four years under the watchful guidance of skipper Dylan Hartley at Saints. Coupled with the coaching of ex-England World Cup Winner Dorian West, Mikey has grown in experience, and was chosen above the club captain in both the 2014 Challenge Cup and Aviva Premiership finals. He even ended that season on a par with his captain in terms of percentage of lineouts hit in the Aviva Premiership. He signed a new contract with the Saints in December 2014, and this season, was awarded his hundredth cap in the 2015 LV= Cup semi-final against Sarries.
Look out for the next article, discussing the remaining seven forwards: Joe Launchbury, Charlie Matthews, Sam Twomey, Matt Everard, Sam Jones, Matt Kvesic and captain Alex Grey.