Rugby Union: Juniors revel in Elliott's freedom

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England Under-21. . .37

Italy Under-21. . . .12

IT MIGHT be expecting too much for the young men who reach this exalted level to cast care aside, not when they have set foot on a path that leads towards the full England side, but this is the idea. To be selected for England Under-21 is, in theory at least, to be liberated.

So it came to pass in the Leicester curtain-raiser, where England somehow emerged from a fairly agonising first half with a 17-point advantage and steadily lost all inhibition in the second half. Italy are perennially strong at age- group levels and to put six tries past them was a fair achievement.

And entirely to the point. The Under-21 management want to switch their emphasis from the end of the season to the beginning, are keen for varied and interesting opposition, and, although all the home unions place importance on their Under-21 set- up, are dead set against anything smacking of a mini-Five Nations' Championship.

'In an ideal world without fixture congestion we'd like to play all the home countries but the last thing we want is something that places even greater pressures on players who have quite enough fiercely competitive rugby as it is,' John Elliott, Under-21 team manager and senior selector, said.

'In our games they must feel free to express their abilities fully and if we had any form of championship it would undoubtedly hold them back from trying things. We constantly tell them that we will be more critical if they are inhibited and lacking ambition than if they attempt something which goes wrong.'

England's first try encapsulated this official sense of adventure, Mark Mapletoft scorching on to Matthew Dawson's short pass. The move had two names: 'Dolly One', said one coach, Tony Lanaway; 'I'll be amazed if this one works,' said another, Steve Smith. (He was only joking.) Mapletoft, the Rugby full-back, went on to 19 points and, having had a fortuitous first half, England had no need of luck thereafter.

England: Tries Mapletoft 2, O'Leary, Bramley, Sleightholme; Conversions Mapletoft 3; Penalties Grayson, Mapletoft. Italy: Tries Re, Falcone; Conversion Visentin.

ENGLAND UNDER-21: M Mapletoft (Rugby); J Sleightholme (Wakefield), M Dawson (Northampton), D Edwards (Loughborough Students), D O'Leary (Saracens); P Grayson (Waterloo), K Bracken (Bristol); C Clark (Swansea Univ), M Regan (Bristol), D Crompton (Bath), R Bramley (Wakefield, capt), R West (Gloucester), A Diprose (Saracens), M Rennell (Bedford), A Morris (Sheffield). Replacement: A Handley (Waterloo) for Grayson, 11.

ITALY UNDER-21: M Ravazzolo (Calvisano); M Amore (Catania), N Aldrovandi (Bologna), P Residore (Valpolicella), U Re (Padua); M Visentin, A Troncon (Treviso, capt); P-G Menapate (Padua), M Alfonsetti (L'Aquila), A Castagna (Lazio), M David (Rovigo), S Stocco (Roma), A de Rossi (Livorno), S Falcone, C Caione (L'Aquila).

Referee: B Stirling (Ireland).