Our writers pick their England 23s v Italy – should Borthwick persist with Smith-Farrell axis?
Henry Arundell is pushing hard to make his England comeback in Sunday's Six Nations clash with Italy after playing a full role in Tuesday's training session.
Arundell could be part of a reshaped back three that might also see Anthony Watson make his first start since the 2021 championship, having recovered from a significant knee injury.
Head coach Steve Borthwick will want to call upon the explosive 20-year-old's X-factor as soon as possible, although all three of his caps have come as a replacement and he is still learning the nuances of defence.
For the Calcutta Cup defeat by Scotland that opened England's Six Nations campaign, Max Malins and Ollie Hassell-Collins were the wings with Freddie Steward at full-back, but Borthwick may use the Italy match to test out different permutations.
With that in mind, we have asked our team of rugby writers to pick who they would like to see tackle Italy at Twickenham. And you can pick your preferred team too...
Jack Willis would have started against Scotland had he not been late into the camp because of his commitments with Toulouse and can expect a swift return to the back row. Alex Dombrandt had an error-strewn game but there were glimpses of the threat of his carrying, which will be key given the absence of a heavyweight midfield runner. The return of Henry Slade there will bring a left-footed kicking option, experience and a touch more physicality. Anthony Watson should also step up after more game time following his injury.
This is undeniably harsh on Joe Marchant and Ollie Hassell-Collins, especially given that England’s attack fired reasonably well. Ben Curry was busy against Scotland, too, but Jack Willis should return and start at openside in the sole change to the pack. I have flip-flopped on Alex Dombrandt, but I'm keeping him. Willis is a decent carrier in tight exchanges, as is Ollie Lawrence.
That brings us onto the backline. Retaining the same players would aid cohesion – and hopefully eradicate the defensive lapses that let in Scotland – but shifting Owen Farrell back to fly-half feels important. Max Malins is there as an auxiliary playmaker. Henry Slade and Lawrence have combined before as well. Anthony Watson is promoted, bringing pace and experience, and the bench is chiefly about speed – notwithstanding Dan Cole as a scrummaging safety blanket. Bevan Rodd is promoted above Mako Vunipola and Alex Mitchell usurps Ben Youngs, with Henry Arundell returning to the 23 jersey.
It's time to accept that it's one of Owen Farrell or Marcus Smith at 10. It's a very tricky call as you lose a bit of leadership without Farrell on the pitch, but Smith's the future. Henry Arundell is a weapon. He comes straight in for me. Not easy going for the right combination in the midfield. Back row is also tricky. Ollie Chessum deserves to keep his spot.
After the yo-yo, unsettled days of Eddie Jones, this team yearns for cohesion. The spine must remain but there were fundamental issues against Scotland that only a personnel switch can shift.
The backline needs less thought and more thrust. Pair two centres who are both ball-carrying threats on an individual scale and, suddenly, space might appear elsewhere for the promising back three to thrive. Marcus Smith still has a large role to play off the bench.
England's back row struggled to provide go-forward against Scotland and both Ben Curry and Alex Dombrandt were guilty of missing high-profile tackles. Jack Willis is England's pre-eminent openside, so it would be just reward for him to earn the starting berth. At No 8, Sam Simmonds should be given a shot to try and generate more momentum for England. Jamie George was quiet against Scotland and, with England's hooker stocks low, this is the match to give Jack Walker his first taste of international rugby. And Henry Arundell walks back into the 23, but only after he has played more than 30 minutes for his club.
Someone needs to hold Steve Borthwick’s hand and gently tell him it’s time to let go of the Smith-Farrell partnership. The Saracens playmaker must be allowed to thrive from his natural position. Henry Slade and Ollie Lawrence form a rejigged midfield and after his two-try performance against Scotland, Max Malins retains his place on the wing. Henry Arundell might be a bit undercooked but don't bet against those monstrous quad muscles providing firepower off the bench.
Dan Cole has shown all season there’s life in the old dog yet and his expertise will be invaluable against a heartened Italian pack who will try to problem-solve their way around the park. Jonny Hill pushes Maro Itoje to the bench and in Jack Willis, England have the complete breakdown operator.
Have your say...
Our writers have named their 23s, now it's your turn. Picking from Steve Borthwick's latest 36-man squad, use our team builder below to select a starting XV that you would like to see take on the Italians: