"Privilege to Work with Michael" - Finn Carnduff: England U20s Captain on Cheika's Arrival as Leicester Tigers Head Coach - Ruck

“Privilege to Work with Michael” – Finn Carnduff: England U20s Captain on Cheika’s Arrival as Leicester Tigers Head Coach

Whilst England captain Finn Carnduff leads the preparations in South Africa, for the U20 World Championship opener against Argentina, there were some significant changes closer to home. Once the lock returns to Leicester Tigers, he will be greeted by a brand new head coach, following Michael Cheika’s appointment to the role.

The former Wallabies and Pumas head coach was confirmed to have filled Dan McKellar’s vacancy, with the blockbuster appointment announced by the Tigers yesterday morning. Carnduff was scheduled to speak with the media that afternoon, ahead of England’s opening match of the 2024 U20 World Championship, with the news still fresh that his new boss had been appointed during his time away.

Michael Cheika Head Coach of Australia after the Old Mutual Wealth Series match, between England and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, London , UK, on the 3rd December 2016.- Photo mandatory by-line: Dean Lancaster/Pinnacle – Tel +44(0) 1363 881025 – Mobile 0797 1270 681 – VAT Reg No: 183700120 – 03/12/2016 – SPORT – RUGBY – Old Mutual Wealth Series – England v Australia, Twickenham Stadium, London, UK.

Expectedly, there were plenty of regional reporters from the East Midlands, eager to know Carnduff’s thoughts on the newly appointed Cheika. The England press conference soon had a Leicester orientated focus, as the break-through second row expressed his excitement of working under the Australian at Welford Road.

“Definitely, really excited to work with Michael. I also want to say that the work Dan (McKellar) has done with me personally over the last year has been huge. I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity he gave me and the support.

“Yeah, obviously really excited with the news of Michael, but I’ll be honest, I’m mainly focused on this tournament at the minute and then when I get back into the club, I’ll have that privilege to work with Michael.”

“I think just being a Tiger has been a great opportunity. Obviously, I’ve had the privilege of being with Steve (Borthwick)when I initially got my contract. And then Dan came in, Wiggy (Richard Wigglesworth) as well, after Steve took the England job.

“And now, Michael. So obviously, credit goes all those different head coaches, but I think the actual setup of the of the club has helped me grow. And I can’t see that changing with a new head coach.”

Joining Carnduff in the England U20s camp is two of his Leicester Tigers teammates, which is a refreshing change for the second row. All throughout the 2023/24 season, Carnduff was the sole Tiger amongst the England age-group squad, yet gelled together with the side as the appointed captain. Leicester scrum half Ollie Allan takes the nine jersey for England’s upcoming match against Argentina, and loose-head prop Cameron Miell is eagerly anticipating his debut off the bench.

“That’s great. Super happy for Ollie and Cam to have the opportunity, both working super hard for club. For them to be out here means a lot, to have boys from Tigers here is nice, but like we’ve said earlier, that didn’t matter that there was no Tigers boys they’re (before). The group is so close, you speak to anyone from everywhere and you feel at home.”

“Anybody coming into the group, no matter how long you’ve been an age (group), you know, you’re welcome with open arms and boys want to get to know you. It’s not necessarily you have to go and introduce yourself to others. It’s more the team wants to get to know you because you’re now part of the team.

“How can we fit you in the best we can? And how can we get the best out of you? Because ultimately, that’s what we want from every player here, for them to play their best rugby because that’s what’s going to win us games.”

Mark Mapletoft and Andy Titterrell have brought seven uncapped players on the tour of South Africa, with five of them earning their first call-up into the match day 23 this weekend. The aforementioned Tigers duo of Allan and Miell are joined by Saracens wing Jack Bracken, Harlequins scrum half Lucas Friday and Exeter Chiefs fly half Ben Coen. With so many fresh faces in and around the England camp, that has been based at the Stormers DHL Stadium, Carnduff has been utilising his captaincy skills to break the ice for the nervous new players.

The leading lock discussed how he has been building up the newcomers with confident pep talks, ahead of their opening round battle with the junior Pumas.

“I think it’s pretty simple. Just that they’re obviously brilliant players, they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. It’s almost just building them with a bit of confidence to go out and show to the world on this stage that how good of a rugby player they are, and that there’s no pressure from our end.

“Mistakes are inevitable whether you played 100 test caps in the senior men’s team or it’s your first game for the under 20s. So we just want to build a bit of confidence with those guys and get them to go out there and do what they’ve got to do.”

Whilst the U20 World Championship title is a long way off, as England have pool stage matches against Argentina, Fiji and South Africa to battle past first, Carnduff could not deny the appeal of lifting the trophy at the end of the arduous campaign. A title triumph for England would mark their first U20 World Championship since 2016, and Mapletoft’s men enter the arena full of momentum.

Carnduff led England to the 2024 U20 Six Nations title this past Spring, in what was the first Championship for England since 2021. The young roses went underfeated in the campaign, yet a draw against Ireland prevented them from obtaining the illustrious Grand Slam.

With the Six Nations trophy already sitting in the cabinet, aspirations are high from Carnduff and co to bring the U20 World title home for the first time in eight years. However, the cutting edge of the competition sees just the three pool toppers and the highest ranked runner-up progress through to the semi-finals. With 12 teams immediately cut down to four, the U20 World Championship is amongst the toughest tournaments to win, as Carnduff recognises how there is zero margin for error from the kick off of the first match.

“(I would be) Speechless to be honest (to win the tournament), as you can tell from the question. But like Mark’s (Mapletoft’s) already said we’re, we’re not thinking about the end yet. We’ve got Argentina on Saturday and we’ve already alluded to the how brutal the competition is. You don’t win that first game, you make it difficult to win the tournament. So yeah, we’re just focused on Saturday really, if I’m being brutally honest.”