Rams RFC’s Makepeace-Cubitt is the only player in England’s Under-20s squad not connected to a Premiership club and following a challenging nine months, the National One star is now hoping to guide his country to Six Nations glory. (Photo Credit: RFU Collection via JMP) 

George Makepeace-Cubitt had only recently scored his first tries of the campaign when his season changed direction. 

The 20-year-old bagged himself a brace in Rams’ 52-17 victory over Taunton Titans in National One and just a few days later, he received a call from England Under-20s boss Mark Mapletoft.

“It was a surprise,” reflects Makepeace-Cubitt. “Seb [Reynolds] – Director of Rugby at Rams – had mentioned that there could be a possibility [of a call-up] so I was then waiting on the call. There were a couple of injuries in the squad so there was a good opportunity for me to come in and train.

“You don’t expect stuff like that when you’re not linked with a Premiership team. It is definitely harder but it was a goal of mine and I am glad the call came.”

It meant Makepeace-Cubitt had to switch his focus from preparing for Rams’ upcoming fixture against Bishop’s Stortford to facing Wales in the Under-20 Six Nations.

At the beginning of last month, the versatile back came off the bench for the final six minutes to make his debut and since then, he has impressed against both Scotland and Ireland. He is now set to start at fly-half on Friday night as England look to claim the Under-20s Six Nations title when they take on France.

But as Makepeace-Cubitt touched on, his initial call-up was perhaps unexpected. Because the former England Under-19 international is solely connected to Rams, he is the only player within the Under-20s set-up not to be affiliated with a Premiership club.

“It has been a crazy couple of weeks,” Makepeace-Cubitt adds. “Not being involved in the build-up to the Six Nations and the first week [v Italy] and then coming into the Wales week, I was just hoping to find my feet. A week before that, I hadn’t even spoken to Tofty and a week later, I’m on the bench against Wales. Crazy.”

Makepeace-Cubitt’s journey to National One and to where he finds himself now is not shared by many. Following the demise of London Irish last summer, a squad full of promise and quality was broken up with players heading to other Premiership sides – and in some cases overseas – to continue their careers.

The emerging talent coming through at the Exiles was well documented too, with the likes of Chandler Cunningham-South and Will Joseph joining Harlequins while players such as Tom Pearson and Tarek Haffar moved to Northampton Saints.

And during this period when his team-mates were finding their next clubs, Makepeace-Cubitt found himself at an unimaginable crossroads. 

“Obviously it was hard when it [London Irish’s collapse] happened,” says Makepeace-Cubitt. “London Irish was my club, even watching. I was a fan as much as I was part of the squad.

“There was a big transition period. I know other boys were moving countries, some moved up and down the country here. For me, it all came down to finding somewhere where I could get playing. It happened quite late in the season so there weren’t many opportunities for me to be signed full-time so it was just making that decision of where is best for me. I knew I had to be playing.”

But the daunting proposition of what might be next was alleviated by Makepeace-Cubitt’s maturity and a call from his childhood club. The 20-year-old could have stepped away from the game but instead, continuing to play rugby was his number one focus and linking back up with Rams – where he was as an Under-9 – was his final decision.

After dislocating his shoulder coming into the season, Makepeace-Cubitt has featured eight times for the National One outfit. Considering he has still been able to gain international recognition, his choice to drop down to level three seems to have been the right one.

“I went to Rams and I have got a good relationship with Seb,” he says. “He used to coach me when I was a kid doing summer camps. We had a phone call and he said there was an opportunity for me. My playing style was what they were looking for so it kind of matched up perfectly.

“I think game time at this age is so important. I think that is the one thing I could actually say has been a benefit of just going to Rams full-time. I am not getting dragged away to train with another club. I can actually focus and be part of a team that I can influence on and off the field so that was important to me.

“It has been quite special to go back there and see where the club is now to when I was there. I don’t know how many levels they have actually jumped up from since I was there!”

The answer to Makepeace-Cubitt’s question is ‘two’ levels. Back when he was running around Old Bath Road as a mini, Rams were finishing fifth in the old National Three South West but now find themselves fighting for promotion to the Championship.

What hasn’t changed over time though is the ‘family feel’ of the club. Makepeace-Cubitt is enjoying the blossoming community at Rams and he has also dipped his toes into the world of coaching. He looks after the Under-15s on a Wednesday evening whilst helping out with the Under-8s and Under-7s on a Sunday morning. “It is probably something I wouldn’t have found a passion for if I was still in a full-time environment,” he adds.

Right now, juggling his National League commitments with international duty is suiting Makepeace-Cubitt but how has he found playing against the likes of Leicester Lions and Cinderford to then being thrown into the cauldron of the Six Nations?

“The mindset is the same, really,” he explains. “When I’m at Rams, I’m giving it everything because that is who I am playing for at that moment. When I come to England, that of course shifts.

“[Playing-wise] the Under-20s is quicker. It’s not just in terms of speed of ball. It’s quickness in terms of how quickly you can think, how quickly can you see pictures. National One is a physical league. It has definitely helped me but in terms of the speed of play, that has probably been the biggest challenge – how quickly you can make decisions especially coming in and being a cover at 10 with England, you have got to think quickly and communicate that.”

Makepeace-Cubitt might be the only player permanently dividing his time between National League Rugby and England, but many of his Under-20s team-mates have clocked up appearances in levels three and four this term.

Including the Rams playmaker, 13 of England’s 23-man squad for Friday’s crunch match against France have experienced either National One or National Two this season. The step up to international level is obviously a big jump but important game time for Makepeace-Cubitt – and others – has allowed them to be razor-sharp for the Six Nations.

“Game time is massive,” Makepeace-Cubitt reiterates. “There is not much difference [between National One and being in a Premiership academy]. The speed of game improves a little bit. There are sometimes bigger boys, more athletic when you move up the levels, but realistically, the basics are the same with rugby and I think playing is where you learn stuff.

“There are experienced players you come up against in National One! For me, I’ve found there have been some good 10s that have challenged me in the backfield and you don’t always get that in training where there are no scenarios. 

“Watching a lot of boys, especially last year like Michael Dykes, he was playing for Rams one week and then he made his Premiership debut [for London Irish] against Harlequins and scored a hat-trick and you think; ‘He has been playing his rugby all season at National One, how has he done this?’

“The answer is there isn’t much difference but it shows game time is so important for our age. It has really benefitted me. I think I am playing some of my best rugby at Rams.”

The intensity and value of National League Rugby is not lost on Makepeace-Cubitt and following the conclusion of the Six Nations, he will return to Rams with the club once again embroiled in a thrilling National One title race.

But contributing to a promotion push will have to wait as England are targeting a title of their own. Last week, Makepeace-Cubitt and co were seconds away from being crowned Six Nations champions but were denied by a last-gasp try from Ireland who snatched a 32-32 draw.

“The first feeling was disappointment,” reflects Makepeace-Cubitt. “There was obviously an opportunity for us to win the tournament but we’ve had good, honest conversations on where we probably could have took the game and it could have been ours. Sometimes you have got to have those honest conversations and we have. We’ve moved on and I think we’re positive. We’re excited to go to France, to a packed stadium and put a performance in.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by England Rugby (@englandrugby)

England are currently top of the standings and one point clear of Ireland but with Richie Murphy’s side facing a winless Scotland on Friday night, a trip to Under-20 world champions France and to the Stade du Hameau in Pau does seem like the trickier assignment.

“We have spoken about starting fast against France,” Makepeace-Cubitt, who also tops the charts for assists (3) in the Under-20s Six Nations, adds. “We can’t really afford to let the French get into it. The crowd, its hostile. They will be waving their flags if they get two tries ahead so for us, it is about making them quiet straight away.

“This tournament, it is ours to go and get and we will try to look to do it this weekend.”

And if England were to get over the line, it would not only cap a ‘crazy’ few weeks for Makepeace-Cubitt but it would also represent a highlight in what has been a whirlwind nine months for the talented youngster.

“This is why you play rugby, to be involved in games like this and tournaments like this. It [winning] would make it a little bit sweeter with the way it has unfolded for me. I want to win this and the boys do as well.”

England’s clash with France will be streamed live on BBC iPlayer, with kick-off at 8pm.

Make sure you follow National League Rugby on social media across the course of the season!

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTube | TikTok | Threads