‘Frank conversations’ convinced England that Henry Pollock has star quality to follow Chandler Cunningham-South

Alex Spink
Mark Mapletoft and Henry Pollock

How Henry Pollock convinced England he has star quality to follow in footsteps of Cunningham-South and Feyi-Waboso

Flanker Henry Pollock has convinced England that he has star quality to follow in the footsteps of Chandler Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.

He was named Six Nations player of the championship after three man-of-the-match performances for U20 winners England.

He is earmarked to fill one of the holes left in Premiership-winning Northampton Saints’ back-row by Top 14-bound England stars Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam.

And he is centre of attention at the Junior World Cup where tomorrow unbeaten England come up against hosts South Africa in Cape Town needing just a point to reach the semi-finals.

Reaction to his setback

Yet it was the way Pollock reacted to his one setback of the year which did the most to convince head coach Mark Mapletoft the young openside has the potential to follow former team mate Cunningham-South into England’s senior set-up.

“I’m pretty sure Henry won’t mind me telling you this,” says Mapletoft. “We had a few pretty frank conversations after his Six Nations performance against Ireland.

“There was definitely a drop off post-Italy and Wales games and we spoke honestly about it. What I like about him was how open he was to that. He recognised it himself.

“He knew – he knew he hadn’t played to the standards he’d set for himself. He showed great self-awareness. He was the first to say this is not good enough, I need to be better.

“We explored what that should look like and a week later he was back to his usual performance standards against France. I love that ownership.”

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Next steps

Pollock is still only 19 and has had a lot of headlines. He captained England’s U18 side and his debut for the U20s brought a hat-trick of tries. He is a player going places that is beyond doubt.

“The aim next season is definitely to try and kick on into the Saints’ first team,” he says. “To get an opportunity and to take it. If I can play my best rugby hopefully I won’t be too far from selection.”

Mapletoft has seen a few players like this of late. Cunningham-South, who made his first senior start against Japan last month and caught the eye against New Zealand last weekend, is the most recent example.

Then there is Feyi-Waboso, a try scorer against the All Blacks in Dunedin. And fellow Exeter starlet Greg Fisilau, who trained with Steve Borthwick’s squad but did not make the tour.

“It’s a big step from the 20s to the seniors and Henry would be the first to acknowledge he doesn’t have Chandler’s size in term of sheer bulk,” Mapletoft says. “But he offers strength in other areas.

“Seven is a very competitive space. It’s attritional, a position in which you’re constantly putting your head over the ball. You have to make sure you’re robust and Henry’s proved that so far.”

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Pollock credits much of his learning to watching how Lawes and Ludlam went about their business at Franklin’s Gardens, how they focused on trying to get better every day and did not lose sight of today by focusing on tomorrow.

“I’ve tried to be like a sponge around them, absorb as much information as possible and everyday layer on improvement,” he explains. “Hopefully, I can take that into next season.”

England have so far beaten Argentina 41-20 and Fiji 48-11. Given the Baby Boks were upset 31-12 by Los Pumitas, England should encounter few problems. Or so the theory goes.

Focus on 2031 World Cup

Victory at Athlone Park would put them into the last four for only the second time since 2018 and do the future claims of Pollock no harm at all.

“Henry is available for us again next year and I’ve no doubt he’ll get a lot more exposure and will benefit from 12 months more conditioning and experience around this programme,” adds Mapletoft.

“Northampton clearly have a very good squad and getting into it is no mean feat. But Lewis [Ludlam] leaving opens up an opportunity. If he keep progressing he’ll give himself a decent shout.

“Our main job, if we’re honest, is looking to the 2031 World Cup in the USA. To help England fill holes in areas where we probably lack a bit of strength in depth.

“We can’t miracle players to fill a depth chart but I think we’re pretty well set, given the number of quality backs that have come through in the last two or three years and are already in the England squad.

“Hopefully we can start to compliment them by drip-feeding in some forwards over the next cycle and a bit.

“There’s no doubt that role modelling and seeing people like Chandler, Manny and Greg step up, really brings into focus that [senior] England isn’t a million miles away.”

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