The midfield problems possessed by Martin Johnson’s England are just short term if the Under-18 Daily Mail Cup Final was anything to go by, writes Rugby World Editor, Paul Morgan.
The final was won by an impressive Whiftgift side, 45-24 over Oakham School but the most notable feature of the clash was not footballer Ian Wright’s son Stacy in the No 3 shirt for Whitgift but the match-up between the opposing centres.
England Under-18 centres Charlie Walker of Oakham and Elliot Daly of Whitgift were the stand out players.
In a team sport like rugby it is unusual to see a player from each team be so pivotal to a side’s chances. But trust me, these two teenagers are that good!
For England Daly plays 12 and Walker 13 but the two boys switched those positions in the cup final. It didn’t change the huge influence they had on the match.
Such is Daly’s prodigious talent – in particular – he could have played second row and would still have stood it. It is no wonder that Wasps are mightily excited about Daly’s prospects and you can see exactly why England’s Under-18s have had such a good run in recent times.
Stepping up to adult rugby is obviously a huge step but as Daly has already played Wasps he has a big future ahead of him.
Is there nothing this boy can’t do? He has great hands, impressive defence, a lovely turn of pace and has the spacial awareness that belies his tender years.
At Twickenham he did almost everything. He made tries, he created space for his team-mates and he kicked the goals. And Whitgift only looked in danger of losing this final when he was yellow-carded in the first half. While he was off Oakham scored two tries and another at the start of the second half gave the Leicestershire school 17-16 lead, which they held for only five minutes.
Daly was simply the difference between the sides. It’s rare you can say this of a 45-22 win. But if Daly hadn’t played I believe Oakham would have won – his influence is that great.
Harlequins have pinched Oakham’s Walker from under Leicester’s noses (not sure how they let that happen?) but they will form a fearsome partnership through the England age groups for some years to come.
Walker got his try with a sensational break at the start of the second half carved through the Whitgift defence, but he looks more of an outside centre than a No 12.
Honourable mentions should also be made for Oakham’s 13 De La Ray Veenendaal, who scored twice and No 8 Sam Tresidder, who was courageous in defence and clearly has a big future ahead of him.
Whitgift had great pace outside Daly, to feed off his great runs and Chris Crane, James O’Sullivan and substitute George Smith were able to profit.
The Daily Mail Cup itself is a competition that rugby should treasure. It is without doubt one of my favourite Twickenham days of the year.
Close to 10,000 people enjoyed the day at different times as four cup finals were played. All were very worthy of gracing the home of English rugby. Long may they continue.