Newcastle Falcons wing Zach Kibirige today takes his first steps as an England Under-20s player.
England are the reigning world champions after beating Wales in last year’s age-group final, and Middlesbrough-born winger Kibiridge joins club-mate Scott Wilson for a week-long training camp in Surrey.
“I am delighted to have been selected,” said the former Yarm School flyer, who has been running in the tries for Blaydon in National One.
“I will just keep plugging away with my club games, work hard during the under-20s camps and hopefully manage to get involved in some of the age-group Six Nations stuff. “The first game is at the start of February, and there is a lot of focus building towards that.
“The game against Wales is at Kingston Park, which is naturally one I want to be playing in, but it is just nice to be in the group for the time being and to have the chance of working with the under-20s.”
Former Newcastle Falcons coaches are at the heart of the England set-up, John Fletcher and Peter Walton having taken Kibirige through the under-18s and fellow Kingston Park old-boy Ian Peel coaching the 20s.
“Fletch has been a massive influence on me,” said the teenager. “Like all the players who have worked under him I feel like he has brought me on a huge amount, not just as a player but as a person.
“He gives you a lot of confidence and belief in your own ability and that enables you to really show what you are capable of when you go out on the field.
“In terms of Peely, I have worked with him firstly at the academy here at Newcastle, and then with the England Under-18s squad before he started to be more involved with the 20s.
“I know him quite well, and he is a really good coach. There is a lot of continuity with the England management, and it helps the players because changes can be quite difficult to cope with if you keep having new people taking charge all the time. It just helps us progress and develop.”
Not losing sight of his club commitments as the Falcons prepare for Thursday’s Amlin Challenge Cup visit of Bucharest Wolves, Kibirige insists last week’s 9-7 loss to Brive may not have been the fatal blow it seemed at the time.
He added: “It wasn’t as bad as it probably looked and there were a lot of positives to be taken out of it with the chances we created.
“Perhaps a little bit of composure and one or two other things will help us nail them soon enough. We created space and managed the conditions a bit better than we had done in previous weeks.
“For a lot of the game we were playing in the right areas of the field, but a little bit of accuracy was what we needed when we found ourselves in scoring positions.
“We weren’t far away, but some of our handling and breakdown accuracy could have been a bit sharper.”
Even if they beat their Romanian visitors on Thursday the Falcons are still relying on a massive upset in France the same night to make the quarter-finals, as Italian part-timers Calvisano travel to Brive.
Kibiridge said: “People can say Bucharest is a dead rubber, but our approach is always the same in that we want to win every game we play.
“Mathematically it is still possible for us to go through, and however unlikely it might be in reality we just have to give it everything and see what happens.
“Bucharest can’t be written off. They have actually gone quite well in the competition in terms of their defence and making it difficult for teams, and we only beat them by one point over there.
“We won’t be discounting them in the slightest, because they have 15 guys on the field wanting to do well and take what would be a great scalp for them.”