Steve Borthwick ditches 'finishers' and picks Eddie Jones rejects
Steve Borthwick marked the beginning of his England tenure by overlooking Manu Tuilagi, recalling a number of Eddie Jones rejects and even ditching the tag of “finishers” for his replacements.
While he has retained a midfield axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell and picked some familiar faces elsewhere, there is an unmistakable air of renewal about the side that will face Scotland on Saturday to begin their Six Nations campaign.
Maro Itoje, set to win his 63rd cap at Twickenham, supported his head coach by heralding “an opportunity for a brand-new chapter for English rugby”.
Borthwick did channel Jones in insisting that the combination of Smith and Farrell was “what we think this game needs”, but has made a statement by dropping Tuilagi. Joe Marchant will start at outside centre with Ollie Lawrence covering from the bench.
“Joe has played really well,” Borthwick said. “His ability to find space with the ball in hand and the way he runs – he glides through space – I think is super.
He also covers so much ground on the edge defensively. “Ollie Lawrence, who is on the bench, has done so well, I have been so impressed with him this season ball-in-hand and defensively.
He is a guy who can break the line, who can find space, who can make impact-tackles and jackals at the breakdown. “There we have got two really good players. Manu is a tremendous player but it was a decision we would go with these two.”
Tuilagi has been described previously as a galvanising presence for England and a player who causes team-mates to walk taller. Borthwick said that the 31-year-old would remain “really influential” but that “all players understand there is competition for places”.
Upon being told of the decision, Tuilagi reacted like “an incredible professional” and “trained really hard”. Asked whether England had enough punch, with Scotland fielding a centre partnership of Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu, Borthwick seemed confident that Nick Evans, his attack coach, will have imparted enough clarity.
“I think there are multiple elements of the game and you have always got different elements that trade off,” he said. “Some of England’s best games have been played with a different type of midfield. This is for this game, it’s not for next week.”
Marchant and Lawrence were brought in and out of the squad under Jones. Max Malins, starting on the right wing, was dropped a year ago. Borthwick explained that the Saracen has been “making things happen” on club duty. Jones’s successor has relished handing out second chances after pinpointing contenders last month.
“I’ll rewind about five weeks to some of the phone calls that I had, where I started speaking to players,” Borthwick said. “My list included a lot of players who hadn’t had many opportunities. I listened to them, I watched them and you see these players are just so desperate to be in the England shirt.
“You could hear it down the phone; you could see it in their body when I met with them face to face. That, I think, is exciting. For me, it is incredibly rewarding. You know how passionate I am about the England rugby team, and to see players just wanting to be in the England shirt is fantastic.”
Ben Curry, picked at openside flanker in the absence of Tom, his twin brother, possesses only a single cap despite Jones calling him up for the first time as far back as 2017.
Itoje admitted that he had mistaken Ben for the wrong Curry sibling on a few occasions over the past fortnight, yet has been impressed by what he has seen.
“He’s settled in well,” Itoje said of Ben. “They have the same DNA, are very similar, high-class, high-quality players, and I’m looking forward to seeing him go. There are slight differences but, again, they’re both sevens. Tom is a bit thicker, Ben is a little leaner. Ben is a little bit quicker, maybe, and Tom is a little stronger. They are very similar. They are identical twins, after all.”
As for Ben Earl, who will end two years in the Test wilderness should he come off the bench against Scotland, Itoje declared himself “incredibly proud” of the back-rower’s “mental fortitude” and suggested that “weaker-minded players may have given up or perhaps decided to go abroad”.
Even the team-sheet itself carried a subtle yet strong assertion of Borthwick’s takeover. Jones channelled Bob Dwyer, his Randwick mentor, in calling his replacements “finishers”.
That quirk was gone. “Every player has their role to play in this team, every player knows their job,” Borthwick said. “The people who are the replacements, who are on the bench at the start, know their jobs and the positions they need to cover and the roles they will have to play within it.
“Part of my role is to ensure those players have clarity over their jobs and I think that is there. I don’t get too obsessed with things that I don’t think add value to the side.”
England team announcement: as it happened
Borthwick on... Ludlam and Chessum
"I've asked Lewis (Ludlam) to bring all the strengths that he brings onto the international pitch. He carries, tackles, runs – he's got grit. I'm not asking players to be anything different. I want Lewis to bring his strengths.
"Ollie (Chessum) is a fantastic young man who has grown immensely. His ability to play across the second row and six... his ability to cover the ground, at the line-out... the props telling me how hard he works at the scrum. That's what the props want. He's got an exciting future."
Borthwick on... Jamie George
"He adds not just on the field but with his personality and the wealth of his experience that he has. I'm not going to talk about players who are unavailable. I will talk about this exciting team. There are some players who have been outside of international rugby for some time who have been desperate to get back in."
Borthwick on... his midfield picks and no Manu
"I'm picking a team for this week. And there is competition for places. There should always be good players not in the 23. That's what we want; depth, people competing and fighting for the shirt. This week's selection has been made for this week, against a specific opponent. Then next week is next week. Manu was the incredible professional that he is when I told him he wasn't involved. I explained my selection and the reasons, we shook hands, and then he went and trained really hard. That's a testament to his character.
"It's the right combination for this game. Joe Marchant at 13 works really well with Marcus. You see how they connect ball in hand... those great attacking kicks that Marcus Smith has and how Marchant finds them.
"Some of England and the Lions' best performances have taken place with Owen Farrell in the 12 shirt."
Borthwick on... Ben Curry
"Ben has worked really hard for this opportunity. Sometimes they come along and it's up to the players to grab them. I'm excited for this new back-row trio and Ben Earl off the bench. He's another who has been fighting for an England opportunity – a fair few players have for a period of time."
Borthwick on... the back three
"It is exciting when you look at the competition for places in the back three. Ollie Hassell-Collins has been playing well, not just this season but last season, too. He has power, speed, athleticism. Max Malins has the ability to find the ball and find space. Freddie Steward's ability under the high ball and defensively... his finishing has also developed into a real strength"
The front row literally are a different breed
𝐒𝐜𝐫𝐮𝐦 𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐩 🤝@o2 | #WearTheRose
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 31, 2023
How about this for accuracy...
Jack van Poortvliet has been picked to start at No 9 at Twickenham where territory and kicking behind the Scottish defence will be key. Good job then that JvP is a sharp-shooter with that left peg...
Accuracy level 💯@PoortvlietJack 🎯@o2 | #WearTheRose pic.twitter.com/meWN75UvAg
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 1, 2023
That's one way to mark your first England cap
Will Ollie Hassell-Collins become the first England men's rugby player to play with painted nails?
Why Smith-Farrell will be different this time
A midfield reunion of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell will have elicited loud groans from certain quarters. So, why are Smith and Farrell back together, and why should we expect progress?
Charlie Morgan dissects Borthwick's team selection, looking at the partnerships in the back line – especially the centre pairing of Farrell and Joe Marchant – that should see England improve on a record of one win in five games against Saturday's opponents. And if you have any doubts about Marchant's ability to step into Manu Tuilagi's shoes at outside centre, the clip below should ease your fears...
To read Charlie's full analysis, click here
'The start of the next chapter of English rugby'
"There are few fixtures in the rugby calendar that excite both players and supporters alike more than the annual Six Nations meeting of the Auld Enemy as they battle for the honour of lifting the Calcutta Cup.
"Another packed Twickenham will witness the start of the next chapter of English rugby in one of the most keenly contested tournaments in the world. There is no doubt that this England team shares the supporters' sense of eager anticipation.
"To a man, the players are determined to play with the commitment, fight and desire that is at the very heart of representing England, the sort of passion that our tremendous supporters rightly expect."
BREAKING NEWS! Smith and Farrell start; Tuilagi out
Steve Borthwick has named his first England starting XV as head coach and, as revealed by Telegraph Sport, Manu Tuilagi is left out of the matchday 23 altogether. Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith will continue their 10-12 combination in England's midfield, while Lewis Ludlam, Ben Curry and Alex Dombrandt comprise a new-look back-row.
Ollie Hassell-Collins will make his debut on the left wing, as will Jack Walker, the Harlequins hooker, off the bench. Jamie George starts in the middle of England's front row after successfully recovering from concussion.
In the midfield, Joe Marchant will start outside of Farrell and Smith after being unceremoniously dumped from the England squad last summer, while Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler reprise their roles at prop. Ollie Chessum, the 22-year-old Leicester forward, starts alongside Maro Itoje in the second row.
Ollie Lawrence and Anthony Watson – the latter of whom has not won a cap since 2021 – are among the replacements alongside England's most capped player, Ben Youngs; the Saracens trio of Mako Vunipola, Nick Isiekwe and Ben Earl; and Dan Cole of Leicester, who will make his first England appearance since the 2019 World Cup final loss.
England starting XV: F Steward; M Malins, J Marchant, O Farrell (c), O Hassell-Collins; M Smith, J van Poortvliet; E Genge, J George, K Sinckler, M Itoje, O Chessum, L Ludlam, B Curry, A Dombrandt.
Replacements: J Walker, M Vunipola, D Cole, N Isiekwe, B Earl, B Youngs, O Lawrence, A Watson.
The England centre pairing that should start the Six Nations and World Cup
Here is who Maggie Alphonsi would pick in an ideal world.
Townsend speaks before Calcutta Cup clash
Gregor Townsend has challenged his Scotland side to "inspire their nation" ahead of their Six Nations opener against England at Twickenham.
Townsend named his starting XV for the Calcutta Cup clash on Thursday, omitting regular scrum-half Ali Price from the matchday 23. Scotland triumphed the last time that the two sides met at Twickenham, in 2021, but the win – their first at the home of English rugby since 1983 – took place behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Townsend admitted that a win on Saturday in front of a full house would be a huge positive for Scotland.
"It would be massive," Townsend said. "2021 meant so much, too; we were sent videos from people at home who had been confined to their houses during lockdown. That gave us a massive lift. But we're here to win and we're here to inspire our nation and make them proud. For that, there's no better fixture.
"The atmosphere at Twickenham is always of anticipation and excitement. It's their first Six Nations game, it will be loud. The first few minutes, the crowd will be supporting their team.
"It's a challenge to focus the mind. We've had England first up the past two seasons. It means more than just a one-off fixture. But it'll be hugely challenging away from home against England. We have to be at our best for 80 minutes and that does focus the players' minds."
Who do you think should start for Steve Borthwick against Scotland? Let us know in the comments.
News from the Scotland camp
Gregor Townsend has named his matchday XV for the clash with England. Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe have been passed fit to play after their respective injuries but there is no such luck for prop Zander Fagerson, who was not deemed at the requisite level of match fitness for Test rugby after recovering from a hamstring injury.
WP Nel will start at tighthead alongside Pierre Schoeman and George Turner in the front row with Glasgow's contingent of Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti and Simon Berghan on the bench.
In the absence of Hamish Watson, Edinburgh's Luke Crosbie, a star in the Champions Cup win over Saracens, will start at openside alongside captain Jamie Ritchie at blindside. Matt Fagerson completes the back-row trio at No 8.
Finn Russell will continue at fly-half after reclaiming the jersey from Blair Kinghorn during last year's autumn internationals, while Huw Jones is preferred to Chris Harris at outside centre, where he will reprise his Glasgow partnership with Sione Tuipulotu. Both Kinghorn and Harris are named among the replacements, alongside Exeter's Jonny Gray, who has recovered in time from whiplash.
Scotland starting XV: S Hogg; K Steyn, C Harris, S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White; P Schoeman, G Turner, WP Nel, R Gray, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, L Crosbie, M Fagerson.
Replacements: F Brown, J Bhatti, S Berghan, J Gray, J Dempsey, G Horne, B Kinghorn, C Harris.
Borthwick's first marker
The unveiling of Steve Borthwick's first Six Nations squad as England head coach is almost upon us, with his picks likely to signal the direction he wants to take with his players in the new era.
Injuries have severely reduced Borthwick's options but a big name exclusion is expected to be Manu Tuilagi, for so long a regular under previous England coaches when fit and available.
The veteran centre, who made his debut in 2011, started three of England’s four autumn Tests with Smith and Farrell. Instead Joe Marchant will join the latter two in midfield, with Ollie Lawrence and Anthony Watson, two late call-ups, providing cover from the bench. A midfield of Smith, Farrell and Marchant has been seen once before, in the first Test against Australia last summer.
Upon announcing his team to the players earlier this week, Borthwick leant on his own experiences as a player, according to Ellis Genge.
“Obviously when [Borthwick] was captain for England, it probably didn’t end the way he wanted it to end,” Genge said of the England head coach, who won his 57th and final cap against Scotland, as captain, in 2010 before being dropped.
“He spoke really well in the meeting. It was that time of the week when people who aren’t playing at the weekend go home.
“When you hear a coach who has been in that role, numerous times, and ended up captain and then having it taken away from him, you know he really understands. I think his delivery amongst that with the boys, they certainly really appreciate the way he does it. That’s an example of the way he has developed his character, and the way he speaks to people.”
Meanwhile Gregor Townsend has already named his matchday Scotland XV for the clash with England. Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe have been passed fit to play after their respective injuries but there is no such luck for prop Zander Fagerson, who was not deemed at the requisite level of match fitness for Test rugby after recovering from a hamstring injury.