Nearly 1,000 players have graduated to test honours since the World Rugby U20 Championship was introduced in 2008, and the smart money would be on England’s Henry Pollock joining that celebrated group in the coming years.

Pollock has had an outstanding season having made his Premiership debut for Northampton in an East Midlands derby against Leicester at the tender age of 18, then winning the Men’s U20 Six Nations with England and being named Player of the Tournament.

Now, the all-action flanker, who turned 19 in January, is looking ahead to testing himself against the best age-grade international rugby has to offer in South Africa, the venue for this year’s U20 Championship.

“It’s exciting, I have never been to a Junior World Cup before. I don’t often think too far ahead but when I do I think to these games I am already getting excited for them. To be able to wear the badge is a special thing and to do it in a World Cup is even more special,” said Pollock, a hat-trick scorer on his U20 debut against Italy earlier this year.

“It involves the best players in the world at our age. As a group, we are really excited about that and after a really good Six Nations we are looking forward to showing what we are capable of.”

Family genes

England will head to South Africa, via a two-match stopover in Georgia, as U20 Six Nations champions. But they haven’t won the biggest prize available to them since Jack Walker and Harry Mallinder led them to victory on home soil in Manchester in 2016. If they are to be successful, they'll need leading players like Pollock to translate their U20 Six Nations form onto the global stage.

South African rugby fans know a good back-row when they see one, and Pollock definitely has the ability to be a standout performer at the tournament, and not just for his mop of blonde hair and black headband.

The former Buckingham RFC youngster is never happier than running around with a seven on his back, and that’s the number he’ll wear in this Friday’s first warm-up match against the Junior Lelos in Tbilisi.

“I am just trying to work as I can on the pitch. I love playing seven, it is one of the best positions on the pitch,” he said when asked what he loves about being an openside.

“I think it is the freedom that being a flanker gives you, one minute you can be standing on the wing and the next you can be in someone’s face.

“I love the physicality of it, being a seven you can be all around the pitch and be annoying to the opposition and a nause. I relish that.”

Pollock comes across as someone who thrives in the big arena. Competitiveness is in his family genes, after all.

“We are a competitive family, it’s in our blood, and we try and do it (succeed) for each other,” he said.

“My older sister is a professional runner in America, she’s a 400-metre hurdler at the University of Georgia, so I try and learn as much off her as I can. While we’re doing different sports I can talk to her about it because she understands that (elite sport) environment.

“And I am really close to my brother, he’s a scratch golfer, and I try and go and see him as much as I can; he’s not far away in Birmingham.”

Weighty matters

With highly experienced back-row duo, Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam leaving his club Northampton after this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership final, next season could be a big breakthrough year for Pollock on a domestic front, too.

In preparation for the senior rugby that lies head, Pollock has been on an intensive weight-gaining programme that has seen him put on five to seven kilos in the last couple of months. He now clocks the scales at 107kgs.

“I’ve just come off five-week gym block at the club,” he revealed, shortly before England’s departure to Tbilisi.

“It’s been quite hard because I have been doing eight to nine gym sessions a week and eating until you almost can’t eat any more, and then repeating it again the next day.

“Hopefully, putting on a bit of size will benefit me in some of the smaller aspects of the game.

“I think is a balance between not being too big, so you’re not mobile enough, and also being big enough to take the impacts.

“I trust Saints, 100 per cent. They have been really good with me but hopefully I won’t have to do too much more.”

Pollock has more than enough on his plate for now, what with the games against Georgia looming, and then a pool schedule that is definitely not for the faint-hearted. England have been drawn in Pool C with hosts South Africa, Argentina and Fiji.

“You look at those kind of teams and you have basically got every single kind of playing style in that pool,” he acknowledged.

“You’ve got the Fijians who want to move the ball and play fast and play on top of you, then you’ve got the South Africans who don’t mind a scrum or two and will try and play it through the forwards, and Argentina are probably a blend of both.

“The warm-up games are going to be great for us and, hopefully, will give us the best platform to build into that and go into the World Cup flying.

“Georgia will give us a great chance to be where we need to be physically. But they can move the ball as well. They will want to show themselves as much as we do. And at the end of the day, it is still a test match.”

Stepping up

After Friday’s encounter at Avchala Stadium, the teams will meet again at the same venue on Wednesday, 12 June.

England’s U20 Championship campaign begins against Los Pumitas on 29 June, followed by the game against Fiji on 4 July. The eagerly-awaited meeting with South Africa, on 9 June, rounds off the pool stage with only the pool winners guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals.

While his focus is on what lies immediately ahead, Pollock takes inspiration from how quickly Chandler Cunningham-South stepped up from the U20s to make his senior bow with England.

"Chandler came out of the World Cup and went straight into it so he has gone from strength to strength which is great to see so it gives you the confidence that you are not too far off that level. We spoke about it a bit in the Six Nations

"As a group we don’t try and look ahead too much because if you get too far ahead of yourself then you don’t really focus on what you need to get better at day by day, and I think that’s the group mentality at the minute. But it is always in the back of your mind."