Ian Peel is relishing a return to home soil tonight when his England Under-20s side host Wales at Newcastle’s Kingston Park.
The former Falcons captain made 122 Premiership appearances for the club before retiring due to a neck injury in 2006, but already has a World Cup winner’s medal on the mantlepiece after guiding England to last year’s Junior World Championship title.
Beating Wales in the final, tonight’s 7.45pm kick-off sees Peel helping take charge of an England side including Falcons pair Scott Wilson and Zach Kibirige in a repeat of the global showpiece.
“It is cracking to be have a game up here, especially with the stadium only being five minutes away from my house,” said the former prop, whose side have spent the week in the North East.
“We have been training at some of my old haunts in Kingston Park and Bullocksteads, the lads seem to have enjoyed it and everyone is looking forward to the game.”
Boasting a side with considerable Premiership experience, Peel insists the age-group side is no mere carbon copy of the senior national team, but says central threads do run right down through the system.
“There is a really strong link now between the Under-20s and the senior England side, and Stuart Lancaster is very good in that regard,” said the Yorkshireman.
“Other senior England coaches like Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree have been really good in talking about how they are trying to do things, and that goes for the 18s and 16s as well in terms of the continuity running through the programme.
“There is similar thinking throughout, but that is not to say we all play in an identical manner to the senior England team.
“We look at different things because at different times players have different development goals they are trying to achieve, but the senior management have an input and we are all very much part of the same idea.”
Expecting a feisty encounter on a Kingston Park pitch which has struggled to cope with the weather this winter, he added: “We played Wales in the World Cup final, and they are one of the better nations at this level.
“They have some very good processes running through their system, and some excellent players coming through.
“It is always a tough game, and with Wales being Wales they just love coming to play England. They get themselves massively up for this fixture, and it will be a big physical battle for our lads tonight.
“We have talked about the pitch, and we are aware lots has been said about it elsewhere.
“I was at the Falcons’ game against Leicester on Sunday, and watching the way they played in the firsthalf just goes to show you can successfully move the ball around without the pitch being too much of an issue.
“We still want to play rugby, and the surface won’t stop us. The weather seems to have been kind this week, and it doesn’t seem as bad as it was a few weeks ago.”
ENGLAND U-20s: H Packman (Northampton Saints) Z Kibirige (Newcastle Falcons) N Tompkins (Saracens) H Sloan (Harlequins) H Purdy (Leicester Tigers) B Burns (Gloucester Rugby) C Braley (Bristol Rugby, captain); D Hobbs-Awoyemi (Northampton Saints) H Thacker (Leicester Tigers) S Wilson (Newcastle Falcons) M Itoje (Saracens) T Ellis (Bath Rugby) R Moriarty (Gloucester Rugby) G Jones (London Wasps) J Conlon (Exeter Chiefs) Replacements: T Woolstencroft (Bath Rugby) A Lundberg (London Wasps) P Hill (Leeds Carnegie) J Hill (Gloucester Rugby) H Stringer (Saracens) H Taylor (Loughborough University) S Olver (Northampton Saints) A Morris (Bedford Blues).
WALES U-20s: A Bagshaw (RGC), T Morgan (Dragons) S Hughes (Scarlets, captain), J Dixon (Dragons) A Evans (Ospreys) A O’Brien (Dragons) T Williams (Blues); N Smith (Ospreys) E Lewis (Blues) N Thomas (Ospreys) S Andrews (Dragons) J Davies (Dragons) B Roach (Blues) O Griffiths (Dragons) J Benjamin (Dragons). Replacements: E Dee (Dragons) L Garrett (Dragons) B Leung (Scarlets) R Dudley-Jones (Ospreys) W Boyde (Carmarthen)L Jones (Dragons) L Price (Ospreys) J Adams (Scarlets).