7th November 2019, 18:20 | great_britain
England Knights head coach Paul Anderson has sent his congratulations and best wishes to Jack Hughes and Joe Philbin as they prepare to link up in a Great Britain team for the first time in the Second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch this weekend.
Hughes, who is set to make his GB debut at centre at the Orangetheory Stadium, was the Knights captain on their tour of Papua New Guinea last autumn, when they drew a two-match series against the Kumuls.
Philbin lined up alongside his Warrington Wolves club-mate in both of those games, and after a late call into the GB Performance Squad this summer, the 24-year-old forward relished his Test debut against the Kiwis at Eden Park last weekend.
It means they will both be on familiar territory when the GB squad head for PNG next week for the last game of the tour at the Oil Search Stadium in Port Moresby – and they will now be joined by a third member of last year’s Knights squad, following the addition of the Leeds wing Ash Handley as back-line cover.
For Anderson, who has been Head Coach of the Knights since the team was relaunched as part of the England Performance Unit last year, that underlines the value of being able to provide international experience to younger players as a bridge to the full England and Great Britain teams.
“I’m really pleased for Jack and Joe to have made the progress they have on this tour, and also for Ash Handley to receive his call-up to the Great Britain squad,” said Anderson, who is also head coach of the Warrington Academy.
“All three of them were excellent tourists with the Knights in Papua New Guinea last year - Jack as our captain.
“And the fact that they have kicked on from that experience to earn Great Britain selection this year is another example of the value of the Knights programme in the England Performance Unit - especially as we build to the World Cup in two years.”
Like many other members of the Great Britain squad – most recently the Castleford half-back Jake Trueman - Hughes and Handley received their first international recognition with the England Academy team, which is now another part of the EPU.
Anderson added: “It’s great to be able to show the lads that our Pathway is working. For the players who were selected for the Knights against Jamaica last month, and the younger lads who have played representative rugby at Academy level this season, they can see from the progress that Jack, Joe and Ash have made how close they are to that next level.”
Following today’s confirmation of a three-match Ashes series for the senior England team against Australia next autumn, the EPU are continuing to explore options for the Knights in 2020 – with preparations already well underway for the Academy to go on tour to the southern hemisphere.