England U20 team for World Junior Championship semi-final
Head Coach Rob Hunter has shuffled his pack after their 26-20 win against South Africa on Sunday, making five changes for the France game with Jonathan Joseph (London Irish), Guy Armitage (London Irish), Christian Wade (London Wasps), Will Collier (Harlequins) and Matt Everard (Leicester Tigers) all coming into the starting XV.
Newcastle Falcons No. 8 Alex Gray captains the side, while Worcester Warriors flanker Matt Kvesic remains the only player to have started in each of England's eight games this season as Hunter's side bid to win their ninth consecutive game.
England beat France 19-8 in this season's 6 Nations campaign at Worcester's Sixways Stadium, and will need to produce a similar display against an on form French side who beat Australia 31-25 in the final round of Pool matches.
England will be hoping to reach their third final in four years and Gray, who watched from the stands in Rosario a year ago when Australia won 28-16 to deny England a third successive final appearance, says that those memories will prove a motivation for him to avoid a repeat against France on Wednesday.
“It’s pretty much a new squad compared to last season," Gray said. “But we’ve got players from that team who are now the team leaders and it will be our job to show the way for some of the other guys.”
Those leadership qualities stood England in good stead during their Pool C decider with the Baby Boks on Saturday, especially in the dying minutes as the Baby Boks threw everything but the kitchen sink at their opponents in an attempt to overturn the 26-20 deficit.
Gray and his fly half George Ford, the youngest player at JWC 2011 in Italy having only turned 18 on March 16, both agree the match was the most intense they or many of their teammates have ever faced in their young careers.
“It was a massive match, just the physicality and what they brought to the game. It was a massive challenge, we had to stand up and I thought we did that well and our team spirit showed,” explained Ford.
“I think if anything it proved to us as a team if we work hard and fight for each other the team spirit is there and that is vital in tournaments like this. We take a lot of confidence from it but we are under no illusions as to what France will bring.”
England U20 starting XV v France:
15 Ben Ransom (Saracens)
14 Jonathan Joseph (London Irish)
13 Guy Armitage (London Irish)
12 Owen Farrell (Saracens)
11 Christian Wade (London Wasps)
10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers)
9 Chris Cook (Bath Rugby)
1 Mako Vunipola Saracens
2 Mikey Haywood (Northampton Saints)
3 Will Collier (Harlequins)
4 Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)
5 Charlie Matthews (Harlequins)
6 Matt Kvesic (Worcester Warriors)
7 Matt Everard (Leicester Tigers)
8 Alex Gray (C) (Newcastle Falcons)
16 Rob Buchanan (Harlequins)
17 Ryan Bower (Leicester Tigers)
18 Sam Twomey (Harlequins)
19 Sam Jones (London Wasps)
20 Dan Robson (Gloucester Rugby)
21 Ryan Mills (Gloucester Rugby)
22 Marland Yarde (London Irish)