England welcome returns of Henry Arundell and Henry Slade for Italy test
Henry Arundell and Henry Slade have made welcome returns to the England squad preparing to face Italy this weekend with Steve Borthwick seeking to kickstart his side’s Six Nations campaign. Arundell and Slade are back from foot and hip injuries respectively and come into the frame to add considerable zip to Borthwick’s side on Sunday.
Courtney Lawes is not under consideration to face Italy, however, as he continues his rehab from a calf problem but the availability of Slade and Arundell is a significant boost for Borthwick following England’s defeat by Scotland last Saturday.
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Arundell made his comeback from the bench for London Irish against Harlequins at the end of last month and though he has just half an hour’s rugby under his belt in more than three months, Borthwick has seen fit to include him to England’s 36-man squad in Bagshot. The 20-year-old made three cameo appearances on the summer tour of Australia, scoring a dazzling try on his debut, and would make his first England outing at Twickenham if selected. Cadan Murley misses out on the squad as a result.
Slade’s inclusion, meanwhile, raises the question of whether Borthwick sticks by the 10-12 axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell. Slade is adept at either inside – or outside-centre and though Borthwick could select all three, picking the Exeter man to start could allow Borthwick to back either Smith or Farrell at fly-half with the other offering cover from the bench. Guy Porter makes way from the squad and Dan Kelly is still out with a thigh problem while Borthwick has not called on George Ford, who made his belated debut for Sale last week.
The absence of Lawes is a blow for Borthwick not least with England erratic in defence against Scotland. The 33-year-old would have been a calming influence on a forwards pack that was lacking in composure, if no little effort, but though he is in camp, he will not come into contention to face an Italy side who gave France an almighty scare on Sunday
Elsewhere, Borthwick has stuck by the same wider squad as last week with Jack Willis included once again after another impressive performance for Toulouse on Saturday. Last week his Toulouse commitments counted against him but with England having an extra day’s preparation this week, and with neither Ben Curry nor Alex Dombrandt covering themselves in glory against Scotland, Willis could feature in a back-row shakeup.
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Meanwhile, after making his first England appearance in more than three years from the bench against Scotland, Dan Cole is in line for his 100th Test cap – including three for the British & Irish Lions – against Italy. When Borthwick said the England team he inherited “weren’t good at anything” the scrum was towards the forefront of his mind. Indeed, England had slipped to the bottom of the ranks of tier one nations but after a difficult start against Scotland there were improvements with Cole helping to win a penalty straight after coming off the bench.
“It’s nice to be included again,” said Cole. “I was at peace with what happened after 2019, and the three years I never expected to be picked again. I think the game goes in cycles. Sometimes the game is refereed and it is free-flowing and other times it moves to more contest-based. It is probably now moving towards that end of the spectrum.”
Cole’s Leicester teammate Ollie Chessum can expect to be involved against Italy after a fine showing against Scotland. And the 22-year-old lock, who made his England debut in Rome last year, said Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield have been borrowing from their Tigers’ playbooks as they seek to turn England’s fortunes around. “As Leicester boys in camp we’ve been guinea pigs for the new drills he’s bringing in, and there is a cross-over between what he’s done at Leicester and brought into here,” said Chessum.