The future has a striking resemblance

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The Independent Online

They performed the haka in front of their English opponents who, observing the ritual from a safe distance, formed a thin white line, arms linked, gumshields clenched. The New Zealanders were back at Twickenham, a rare sight, even if they were tomorrow's All Blacks rather than the class of Jonah Lomu.

In Wednesday's double- header at headquarters, sponsored by Tesco in a two-for-one offer, England Under-18s played their New Zealand counterparts followed by England Under-19s against Wales. "There is always something special about matches against New Zealand at all levels," Mike Summers, chairman of the England schools group, said. "The opportunity to play at Twickenham adds a little extra. The large number of our players who transfer to the senior international stage is testament to the close liaison between the schools and the Rugby Football Union."

The budding roses were following the path taken by Martin Johnson, Richard Hill, Neil Back, Mike Tindall, Iain Balshaw, Steve Borthwick and Jonny Wilkinson. Wilkinson, who as recently as 1997 went on a schools tour to Australia, has become a role model and if he had seen Ross Broadfoot, the Under-18 stand-off, he might have thought he was looking in a mirror.

Broadfoot, a 16-year-old pupil at Whitgift School, has been playing since the age of four, encouraged by his father, a qualified coach. The splendidly named Broadfoot, who is still growing, has modelled his kicking style on Wilkinson, copying every move, every mannerism. His first penalty, downwind, sailed over from nearly 50 yards. By half-time, when England led 15-10, Broadfoot had kicked three penalties and two drop goals.

He wasn't the only doppelgänger. James Gopperth, the Kiwis' stand-off, looked like an apprentice Andrew Mehrtens, especially when he sold a dummy to score under the posts. With the captain, Luke McAlister, a member of New Zealand's world champion Under-19 team, kicking five penalties and converting tries by Gopperth and the King's College, Auckland, hooker Lionel Wairau, the Kiwis built up a 29-15 lead. England, whose tackling was impressive, responded with a penalty try before losing 29-22.

Before a crowd of 3,000, England Under-19s had better luck against Wales, winning 12-0 with four penalties from the Northampton Saint Benjamin J Russell.

New Zealand, who had already beaten the England and Wales Under-19 teams, are well served by the sons of Pacific Islanders who, according to Graham Henry, are fast developers. "They mature more quickly than boys from Britain," Henry, a former headmaster from Auckland, said. "Over here they are not physically developed until they're about 20 or 21 but the Islanders reach that stage in their teens."

Any scent of the tyros having Welsh blood and Henry will be on their case. As it is, a number of players at Twickenham will be facing each other again when they leave school, possibly in the 2007 World Cup. Some won't have to wait that long.

On the right wing the Kiwis had Joe Rokocoko who, because of his size, colour and skill, has inevitably been compared to Lomu. Rokocoko was well marked, although he put in a big try-saving tackle near the end on the full-back Jonathan Hammond, who suffered a leg injury and was stretchered off.

The England coach, Peter Kingston, formerly a scrum-half with Gloucester and England, pointed out that some of his team had their preparation interrupted because they had to take A-levels. For some, academic qualifications are not as important as they used to be. To brain surgeon, train driver or IT consultant, a careers guidance officer can add professional rugby player. Applicants can expect a good salary, extensive travel, a healthy lifestyle and a career span of no more than 15 years.

Hammond, a product of the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, Matt Dawson's alma mater, will apply as will Broadfoot, a member of the Saracens Academy. The same goes for the hooker Peter Allen, who has already had an offer from Sale, the flanker Luke Abraham, who studies at Leicester Grammar School in the morning and trains with Leicester Tigers in the afternoon, and the lock Tom Ryder. At 6ft 5in and 16st, Ryder is a gifted cricketer who joined the Nottinghamshire county squad at 14. His ambition, however, is to study sports science at Loughborough and play rugby for Leicester and England.

Not everyone is dropping an e-mail to Clive Woodward. Stephen Burns, the captain, wants to become a corporate lawyer and Gregory Nicholls, head boy at Arnold School, hopes to study medicine.

There is a similar mix in the New Zealand squad. The prop Jamie Mackintosh, who comes from a place called Fortification in deepest Southland, describes himself as a keen hunter and says he wants to join the police force. A future All Black if ever there was one.

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