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Five talking points from England’s World Cup squad

Five talking points from England’s World Cup squad

Five talking points from England’s World Cup squad

Steve Borthwick has taken an organised approach to naming his first World Cup squad as England head coach, making his “very difficult decisions” early to give his finalised 33 time to gel.

A 20-9 defeat against Wales on Saturday kicked off their Summer Nations Series campaign and 10 of the starting XV are part of the contingent who will head to France.

There are some notable omissions, however, which is where we start our look at the main talking points from Monday morning’s announcement…

Slade surprisingly left out

Henry Slade has been a mainstay of England’s midfield for the duration of the World Cup cycle, featuring in 30 of 37 matches since the 2019 competition and occupying both the 12 and 13 jerseys in that time.

The decision to cut the Exeter Chiefs man from the squad is therefore the biggest surprise Borthwick has sprung, with the head coach opting for extra power in the centres in the form of Joe Marchant, Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence.

READ MORE: England name 2023 Rugby World Cup squad

Slade’s cultured left boot could be a miss in tight games requiring an extra splash of creativity but Borthwick has put his playmaking faith in Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and George Ford, all of whom are set to play key roles in France.

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Smith the wildcard

On the topic of Smith, the Harlequins fly-half will be among those relieved to have made the final cut alongside Ford and Farrell.

Taking just two out-and-out fly-halves could have crossed Borthwick’s mind, but Smith’s ability to make game-changing interventions – which may prove particularly useful in light of Slade’s absence – has ensured he has a place in the squad.

The challenge now will be for Smith to seize any opportunity he gets. He remains yet to quite show his sparkling club form on the international stage but there would be no better time to put that right.

Dombrandt doesn’t make the cut

Alex Dombrandt was the man in possession of the No.8 jersey throughout the Guinness Six Nations and also started at Principality Stadium as England kicked off their Summer Nations Series campaign.

Having held off initial competition from Zach Mercer, Dombrandt appeared set for a place on the plane but Billy Vunipola – yet to feature during Borthwick’s reign to date – has been selected as the sole specialist in the position.

Versatility is clearly an asset valued by the new regime, with Ben Earl and Lewis Ludlam among those in the pack able to cover multiple positions across the back row. That theme is also perhaps part of the reasoning behind Slade’s omission, with Marchant able to cover centre and wing.

Faith placed in young hookers

Jamie George is the sole experienced hooker in the squad, with the Saracens star set to add to his 77 caps in France.

His understudy at club level, Theo Dan, made his debut off the bench in Cardiff and takes his place in the World Cup squad as one of two back-ups to George, along with the similarly inexperienced Jack Walker – who has just three caps to his name.

Dan has big-game experience, replacing George 10 minutes into June’s Premiership final, and may need to step up again should his clubmate fall victim to injury in the coming weeks.

Wise old heads to steer ship

There is no substitute for experience and England are not lacking in that regard, with more than 1,400 caps earned by those in the final squad.

World Cup knowhow is vital both on and off the field and in Ben Youngs, Dan Cole and Courtney Lawes, England have three players who will be there for the fourth time.

Youngs’ fellow veteran scrum-half Danny Care will be another guaranteed to keep spirits high in the camp while the leadership values of Lawes, Maro Itoje and George will come to the fore in the pack.


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