England will hand debuts to nine players in their Under-20s Six Nations opener against France on Saturday.
The likes of Manu Vunipola, Connor Doherty and Josh Hodge will provide experience to Alan Dickens’ side as they look to get off to a winning start at Stade des Alpes.
Dickens, who was appointed in November, believes the chance to take on France in their own back yard will be an immensely beneficial experience for the players making their bows, but accepts the match represents a considerable test to his side.
“There is a huge challenge ahead for us on Saturday against a France side who are back-to-back World Rugby U20 champions,” Dickens said after announcing his starting XV.
“I’ve coached teams to play in France and this will be a great experience for the players. It is usually a hostile atmosphere, they are hugely patriotic when it comes to rugby, and we are expecting no different.
“The attitude, skill level and commitment of the players in the time we’ve had together has been fantastic and I’m looking forward to seeing them put all that hard work into an 80-minute performance.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 30, 2020
Having won three titles on the spin between 2011 and 2013, England saw their run of success broken by France the following year.
They will be looking to win their first Under-20s Six Nations crown since 2017 at this year’s Championship and add to their record eight titles.
France, meanwhile, will head into the Championship hoping to go one better than the second-place finish they secured last year.
Since then they have been named U20 world champions and will turn to the impressive Matthias Haddad to set the tempo.
🇫🇷🏴 𝐂𝐎𝐌𝐏𝐎 ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ 𝟑/𝟑
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) January 30, 2020
The openside flanker has been promoted to the Under-20s side after staring at Under-18 level last term and adds pace and power to the French pack.
French Under-20s head coach, Phillipe Boher, says his reshaped squad is hungry for success on the international stage and has targeted victory in the Six Nations.
Boher said: “This new team must have a new identity, a new impetus, a new emulsion to get something fabulous. We want to get maximum wins from the Six Nations and then position ourselves for the next World Championship.”
England XV: 1 James Whitcombe, 2 Theo Dan, 3 Luke Green, 4 George Hammond, 5 Ben Donnell, 6 JJ Tonks, 7 Richard Capstick, 8 Rusiate Tuima, 9 Sam Maunder (C), 10 Manu Vunipola, 11 Tom Roebuck, 12 Max Ojomoh,13 Connor Doherty, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb,15 Josh Hodge
Replacements: 16 Ben Atkins, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Harvey Beaton, 19 Hugh Tizard, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Jack Van Poortvliet, 22 George Barton, 23 Freddie Steward
France XV: 1 Sacha Lotrian, 2 Theo Lachaud, 3 Paul Mallez, 4 Joshua Brennan, 5 Adrien Warion, 6 Gauthier Maravat, 7 Matthias Haddad, 8 Jordan Joseph, 9 Nolann Le Garrec, 10 Joris Moura, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 12 Tani Vili, 13 Yoram Moefana, 14 Nathanael Hulleu, 15 Chiekh Tiberghien
Replacements: 16 Guillaume Cramont, 17 Andy Bordelai, 18 Regis Montagne, 19 Mickael Guillard, 20 Matteo Le Corvec, 21 Baptiste Germain, 22 Thomas Dolhagaray, 23 Romain Fusier