"I'd Say Definitely First Team" - Henry Pollock's England Aspirations as Saints Protege Wins U20 Six Nations Player of the Championship - Ruck

“I’d Say Definitely First Team” – Henry Pollock’s England Aspirations as Saints Protege Wins U20 Six Nations Player of the Championship

Without a doubt one of the most exciting young talents in the English rugby system, 19-year-old Henry Pollock certainly has the potential for a decorated career in the Red Rose. A home grown talent of the Northampton Saints academy, Pollock has broken onto the scene with captivating performances for the Saints, on loan at Bedford Blues, and in the England age grade system.

Last March, Pollock was a pivotal player for the England U20s side that won the 2024 U20s Six Nations, and capped it off with the Player of the Championship award. Presented the trophy by his Northampton back-row teammate Lewis Ludlam, Pollock took home the age-grade honour from a Saints training session three days ago.

With just one draw to Ireland hindering their Grand Slam ambitions, Mark Mapletoft’s men ran roughshod on the competition and impressed all onlookers as they claimed their latest title.

Ending Ireland’s run of two consecutive U20 Six Nations Championships, England got their hands on the trophy for the first time since 2021, with Pollock at the heart of the action. The back-row began his campaign by scoring a hat-trick against Italy, and finished it off with an important try in the final round win over France. Speaking in an England press conference, Pollock expressed his enjoyment of the U20s set-up, as the side has banded together to form an unbreakable ‘brotherhood’ under captain Finn Carnduff.

“We spoke about it back in our first camp in Portugal, just about the brotherhood. We said, if we’re really tight as a group, and everyone is really comfortable in the environment, then it gets the best out of you. You know, we do different activities on a afternoon basis, to kind of gel. Wednesday afternoon as we go out for dinner and stuff like that, and kind of change the scenery. Then we have like things called ‘dice rolls’ in the evenings ,where you get a little bit stick with your mates.

“The ‘brotherhood’ aspect has been amazing. You know, personally, for me coming into a year below, the older boys been really helpful. I can probably say on behalf of all the younger lads, that the older lads have been really helpful and it’s pretty nerve racking making your first start in Italy and all the boys been really helpful. So the brotherhood aspect has been thriving in this environment.”

“I’m in the leadership group here, and it’s been really good to work alongside Finn and Co. Fins a great captain, and the way the house holds himself on the pitch is remarkable. I also think the way that he speaks in meetings, is a credit to his character, he’s the person in the group when he speaks, everyone listens. I think that’s something that a captain should be. Also, he’s a great player on the pitch, he’s putting in unseen work the no one else sees. He’s a class player.”

“I think this group’s done so well, from the first warm up games and the way we’ve built through. You know, there’s a lot of young guys like lots of guys in the air below about two years. So the experience we’re getting in this championship is amazing.”

Pollock’s international aspirations obviously go beyond the age-group system, as the Northampton Saints protege eyes up a future in the white shirt of his country. Recent exposure to the likes of Chandler Cunningham-South, motivates Pollock to believe that this goal may not be all that far off.

Chandler Cunningham-South of England Mens U20 during the U20 Six Nations Championship Match between England U20 and Scotland U20 at The Stoop. 3 Feb Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

The Harlequins back-row had a super-charged progression from the England U20s set-up, as he graduated immediately into the England senior squad at just 20-years-old. Steve Borthwick called upon Cunningham-South for the 2024 Guinness Six Nations, less than a year after the back-row was tearing up trees in the 2023 U20 World Championships. Pollock certainly gains motivation from such successful progressions, and wishes to emulate the Harlequin’s accomplishments down the line.

“It gives you a boost of confidence. You know, what Chandler did coming out of the World Cup and then he came straight into the first team environment. It’s really positive and the way that he’s gotten the strength, I think everyone in the camp has just gotten a boost of confidence that we’re not actually that far away from that level.

Chandler Cunningham-South of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“But again, like we’ve been saying if you get too complacent and you don’t work on the basics and you think too far ahead, then you’re never going to be as good as you are. So yeah, I think that Chandler doing that has given the whole group a massive hit of confidence.”

“I’d say definitely first team (England goal). I think every single person here would say that their aspirations are to play first team. The U20s have been really good for me. It’s been a great stepping stone and I’m just trying to go from strength to strength each day. And I’m loving my time here. Honestly, it’s been really good.”

A member of the Northampton Saints academy since under-13s level, Pollock has long had green, black and gold running through his veins. A Banbury native, the back row first crossed the Oxfordshire border to pursue his rugby goals at an early age, with Northampton steadily becoming his second home.

Pollock made his Saints debut in the 2022/23 Premiership Rugby Cup against the now defunct London Irish. Despite that fixture against the Exiles being a momentous occasion for young Pollock, the hard-hitting flanker has fonder memories of his Premiership debut, which came amongst the hostile atmosphere of a packed out East Midlands derby.

“Yeah, I took a lot from from various games I played in. I’d say the Premiership debut was a surreal experience. Making my Prem debut for my boyhood club was special and having that in a East Midlands derby was even more special.

“The Bedford stuff was really good for me to get some game time. I think some lads at our age struggle with game time and I was very lucky that Bedford took me under their wing and it’s a similar system that Saints play like. Yeah, I was really fortunate enough to play there and yeah, I think it was good just going from different environments.”

“You know going from the Saints environment then to Bedford and now the (England) 20s, just everything. I’m just trying to like a sponge and absorb as much information as I can from players.”

Pollock’s biggest on-field inspiration is former Australia captain Michael Hooper, and the Northampton upstart certainly has similar qualities to his idol. Relentless over the breakdown and an incredible athlete around the park, Pollock has the qualities to become a mainstay for his country, just like the 125-capped Wallaby.

Despite not being in the presence of Hooper for on-field guidance, Pollock is certainly amongst a capable group to guide him on his back-row journey. The Northampton loose forwards contingent is an impressive list, yet the ranks will soon be thinned when Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam pursue a club career in France. Pollock is set to carry the torch forward for the Saints’, with the likes of Tom Pearson stepping up into the mainstay.

“I think I’m very lucky in the environment we have at Saints. We’re integrated from day one with the first team. If you look at other clubs that have bigger squad sizes that don’t have the same exposure to first team that we have, so I’m really grateful for that. To be playing and training alongside the likes of lots ‘Courts’ (Courtney Lawes) and Tom Pearson, it’s pretty surreal.

“Just trying to get as many tips as I can from that as possible, and they’re really good with me. Whenever I have a question, they’re very open with it. I definitely don’t shy away from asking when I have a question, they’ve been really helpful.”

“Phil (Dowson – Northampton Director of Rugby) has been really good. I’ve been having good chats with ‘Dows’, before I came to U20s. Then when I had that week off, I went back to him, and I had some good chats with him. So he’s been really helpful, he understands it because he’s been there. He’s had that in his career, he’s done pretty much everything you can do in your career. So, to have someone like him, it’s been really good for me, and it’s just trying to learn as much as I can from him.”

Despite his eagerness and impressive progression, Pollock is not going to jump the gun and rush into proceedings with the Saints. The back-rower has been gaining valuable senior game-time with Bedford Blues in the Championship, and recognises the importance of cutting his teeth against the experienced older players. Willing to bide his time and consistently improve, Pollock views his early career like a veteran, wise beyond his years.

“If I’m going to Bedford, I’m going to Bedford, if I’m going to Saints, I’m going to Saints, I’m not too fussed to be honest. I think for me, it’s just whatever Saints want me to do, whether it’s a development block in the gym, or that’s playing in the Championship, then I’ll trust that, and I’ll do that. So I’m not that fussed, I (know) it doesn’t mean (anything) personally. When I go back to Saints I’ll have a meeting with the coaches around me, and then I’ll probably go from there.”

“It’s definitely something that I’ve got in the back of my head, thinking about eating enough. I think Saints will be a bit heavier, too, to be able to take the impacts that first team rugby does come with. But I think just having a really good conversation with lots of people’s being really helpful. I’m just slowly trying to implement it back in. So, it’s been good.”