Batley primed for massive French test

Joe Batley
Joe Batley
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Joe Batley is gearing up for the biggest match of his life as England take on France for the 2015 Under-20 Six Nations title tonight (7.55pm).

The former Gosport & Fareham ace, 18, has been named as a replacement for the winner-takes-all showdown at the Amex Stadium in Brighton, which will be screened live on Sky Sports.

The team is quite confident, so we’ll see if we can get a big result

Joe Batley

Batley has appeared in all England’s games so far, and made the starting XI in the clash with Ireland.

But the flanker is under no illusions this game will be his biggest test yet, with both sides tied at the top of the table on six points.

The competition is identical to the senior Six Nations competition and since its launch in 2008, England have won four times – celebrating the Grand Slam on two of those occasions.

However, this campaign did not get off to the best of starts.

Batley & Co were defeated 21-15 by Wales in the curtain-raiser but they soon rallied to crush Italy 61-0.

A nail-biting 19-14 win over Ireland put down a marker as their title ambitions gathered pace.

And a 26-11 triumph over Scotland in the latest outing teed up what promises to be a momentous finale tonight.

England are the reigning world champions at under-20 level, having sealed back-to-back wins with a thrilling 21-20 defeat of South Africa in New Zealand last year.

But the French, who have only lost to Ireland this term, are in fine form after comprehensive victories over the Welsh and Scots.

And Gosport-born Batley is relishing the chance to test himself against last year’s Grand Slam winners.

He said: ‘The team is quite confident, so we’ll see if we can get a big result.

‘Obviously France are a really physical side but very unpredictable – the classic French way of playing rugby – but I believe we have a strong enough team to win.

‘I think we’ve shown that so far. And when we have played well, we have scored some good tries.

‘So there’s no reason we can’t win the title.

‘Ireland was a very close game and they came at us hard.

‘We were clinging on for the win but it was a great feeling and gives us confidence for this game.

‘This is a massive experience for me.’

Batley, who is part of Gloucester Academy and plays in National League division one for Hartpury College, won the European Championships at under-18 level last year.

The News’ reigning young sportsman of the year has also appeared on the replacements’ bench for Gloucester in the LV Cup.

As the youngest of the current under-20s crop, the former Gosport & Fareham age-group skipper has dreams of stepping out at Twickenham in the senior Six Nations.

He added: ‘I’m fortunate enough to have this year and next year in the England under-20s set-up, which is a great learning curve.

‘Looking at the current England squad, a lot of the players have come through the under-20s.

‘And I don’t see why some of the boys, including myself, can’t follow in those footsteps and play for the senior side.

‘At the moment, though, I’m still learning and the more I learn, the better I’ll be.

‘It’s just a case of continuing that progression from being a boy to being a professional and working hard to get there.’