The man looking after England's next generation
Tom Hamilton in Auckland
June 10, 2014
Nick Walshe presides over an England training session - the man charged with bringing through the next generation of talent © Getty Images
The message this week from the England camp has been that they are far from a go-slow team; instead they want to play at pace, leave nothing in the lungs or legs and make sure the other team are in no doubt over who they have just faced. The credo is the same at Under-20 level.
For those who saw Friday's match between England and Australia, they would have been struck by just how long the ball stayed in play. It was a frantic, thrilling match in which England showed they have more than enough about them to secure their second Junior World Championship in as many years.
Masterminding their charge is Nick Walshe, the ex-scrum-half who spent time with Harlequins, Saracens, Sale and Bath and then coached at Bedford. From there he became U20 backs coach under Rob Hunter and then took on the head coach role in 2013.
The purpose of the Under-20 side is to herald through the next generation of talent. Look at the team who reached the final in 2011 - the XV featured seven of the current crop (Launchbury, Mako Vunipola, Thomas, Kvesic, Ford, Wade and Farrell) while Marland Yarde was on the bench. It was proof that the age-group system is working. The challenge is to keep that production line pushing on.
Last year the U20s made history when they became just the third different side to win the tournament. Featuring that day were Luke Cowan-Dickie, Henry Slade, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell and Ollie Devoto, all of whom are in and around the current England scene. While that is a clear positive for Stuart Lancaster, the challenge for Walshe is to fill those gaps - it is a challenge.
"It's a constant process," Walshe told ESPN. "That's why we have the U19 games and we are in cahoots with the age-group coaches. We have to think of next year already. After the Six Nations, around April time, we had an U19 game against France and an internal game so that gave us a good idea of who's coming through.
"You lose over two thirds of the squad each year. It makes it a challenge but it does depend on the positions you lose. Last year, that Junior World Championship team, we had a core of senior players who had been in the team for two years. When you take them out, you have to build again and you have to get them up to speed again but fair play to this bunch, they have come on and credit to the boys, it has been brilliant."
But what is abundantly clear from talking to Walshe, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to heralding through the next generation. You have those who progressed through the various age groups and have been on their radar for a while and are probably in a Premiership academy and they feature alongside someone like Henry Taylor who is currently at Loughborough University, playing National One rugby while studying for a Fine Art Degree. In that instance, it was one ex-Bath scrum-half Scott Bemand telling another, Walshe, to give Taylor a look. He proved to be good enough and started against Australia last Friday.
Players also "come out of nowhere", according to Walshe, like Worcester's Ben Howard did. But what is key in all cases, is game time. For Walshe, there was one match nearly four years ago while he was at Bedford that for him was the perfect manifestation of all the positives of dual-registration.
"At the beginning of the season we had Owen Farrell, Jackson Wray, Will Fraser, George Kruis and James Short. They were all with us on dual-registration from Saracens. The Saracens management told them to prove they could nail down a first-choice spot in a Championship club. I remember it was Wray, Farrell, Fraser and Short who played for us, week-in-week-out, and it got to a stage where Saracens had to go down to Bath.
"It was on a Friday night and Saracens had a load of injuries and Farrell, Short and Wray started. As they had been playing for us, they weren't match short, they were in the groove. I think Short scored a try, Wray got Man of the Match and Faz was superb. Saracens won and that was a clear demonstration of how good dual registration is. I think it's so important for these guys to go and play."
The current crop of Under-20s are in fine form © Getty Images
For Farrell, he is now working with Lancaster while Walshe is bringing through the next generation. There is a constant discourse between both camps but Walshe is keen to continue doing things his way. In terms of on-field play, some of the calls are the same and some of the defensive structures bear a resemblance to what happens at senior level but there is an extent to which Walshe and his staff work autonomously.
"Stuart doesn't tell us how to play which is good as I like to do it my way. We do have a good connection with the senior coaches as these guys are hopefully the future."
Walshe's outlook on the 'future' is split between the now, being in New Zealand, and what lies ahead whether it's next year's Six Nations or the next World Championship. "There's the competition stage and the development side of the role. I see this period as purely performance and this team doing as well as possible. A lot of it is developing players and being that ladder up to Stuart's team."
For Walshe and Lancaster the current aims are the same. Both want to be winning their next match on New Zealand soil. They seem to be cut from the same cloth. Lancaster has done so much to improve the culture of the team in the past with a view to getting that on-field success as a result of solid off-field foundations and Walshe holds a similar view to player development. It is all about the bigger picture when it comes to the Under-20s.
"You do feel a bit of a father figure, you stress to them about discipline and behaviour and how you are going to be perceived. We try to teach them to become good adults, how to behave and what it takes for them to push on. We work closely with the clubs but we pride ourselves that when they come out of the Under-20 programme, they are good people, they have good values and they understand what it's all about. One of the big things when I took over was to make sure the boys knew how lucky they are to be playing for England."
If England win this Championship, and they are looking good for that after a pool stage that saw them go three form three, it will prove the short-term goals are succeeding, but for Walshe there is a longer goal, seeing a number of this crop going on and emulating the Farrells and Launchburys of this world.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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