England get strength from ‘most
coach, John Mitchell, who is from New Zealand, was asked here in Tokyo what surprised him most about the England set-up. He said: “I thought it would be predominantly private-school based. We’ve got a lovely mix.”
But, as ever, in English society, the picture is more complicated than the headline figures suggest. At 11-15, more than 20 went to state schools, eight to fee-paying establishments and one each to an overseas high school (Joe Cokanasiga) and a church school.
At 16-18, when scholarships kick in and the big-name private schools scoop up talent, the numbers change. For the A-level years, 16-18, the state school lead narrows to 16-15, when you include further education colleges.
All the following England players moved from state to private sector at 16, including some who exemplify the ethnic diversity of the side (another tick in the credit column for Jones’s squad): Billy Vunipola (who won a scholarship to Harrow), Ellis Genge, Jonathan Joseph, Mako Vunipola (Millfield), Lewis Ludlam, Maro Itoje (Harrow), Piers Francis, Tom Curry (Oundle) and Kyle Sinckler – who started at Graveney Secondary School (state) before moving to Epsom College. Sinckler is held up as the star of social mobility in rugby but objects to being sketched as an escapee from a tough life “on the streets”.
What this says is that the big private schools have extensive talent scouting networks. Curry, who has been superb at this World Cup, came through Bishop Heber High School (state) in Malpas, Cheshire, before going on to Oundle, where the sports facilities include a six-lane athletics track and 20 tennis courts.
From there the road took these England players into Premiership club academies and on, to the England set-up. Again, though, there is a mix of educational routes. Ben Youngs switched from private to state, as did George Ford. Itoje moved to Harrow from St George’s School in Harpenden, a highprofile state establishment which Ford, Owen Farrell and Jack Singleton also attended.
Farrell, the England captain, is the antithesis of the older, Rfufavoured “officer-class” leader, and is universally admired and respected by an England side who come over as classless. Ethnic diversity is also a factor, in a country where, as the Elitist Britain 2019 report noted: “An Old Etonian has won a medal in ‘sitting down’ sports at every Olympic Games since 1992.”
“I think it definitely helps,” Manu Tuilagi says. “There’s a lot of different backgrounds in the team. There’s definitely a feeling in the team that it doesn’t matter where you are from. For me it shouldn’t be any different in sport or anywhere else as long as you have the same goal and everyone in the team does his job.”
Itoje says: “This is probably the most diverse England squad that there’s ever been, in terms of people coming from different countries and different races.
All for one: England do a lap of honour after their semi-final victory over New Zealand