Opinion: We pick England’s likely 33-player squad for the Rugby World Cup

England Rugby World Cup squad prediction Credit: Alamy
England Rugby World Cup squad prediction Credit: Alamy

With England set to announce their warm-up squad for the Rugby World Cup on June 12, it’s expected that around 50 players will be named by Steve Borthwick.

We have taken a look at who are the likely 33 set to make the trip to France as it stands right now, the challengers that might force their case during the warm-up Tests and the also-rans that seem to have blown their chances.

Back three

On the plane: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Cadan Murley

With Owen Farrell almost nailed on at fly-half, expect to see a number of Saracens in the backline to take effective club partnerships into the Test arena. Daly’s versatility and impact off the bench cannot be ignored and it may very well be that he ends up at 13 in some of the Tests, where many believe he plays his finest rugby.

In departures: Adam Radwan, Joe Cokanasiga, George Furbank, Tommy Freeman, Henry Arundell

If you want pure gas, Radwan and Arundell are your men. If you want power running, Bath’s big Joe is one of the best around, and if you want versatility, Furbank’s form this season makes a compelling case for one of the most direct attacking runners in the game and he’s able to play anywhere in the backline. Freeman’s curve ball is that his talents might just be best utilised at 13, but that may very well be a work in progress for next season.

Book your family holidays: Ollie Hassell-Collins, Ollie Thorley, Nick David, Louis Lynagh

All four players have defined skill sets to offer and had Lynagh played more rugby he may well have made the cut.


On the plane: Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marchant, Ollie Lawrence, Henry Slade

With Daly and Farrell both offering cover at 12 and 13, we think Borthwick might go with just three or four primary centres. England need powerful and direct runners, and with Marchant added to the quartet for his aerial game and defensive merits at 13. Our last place goes to Slade by the finest of margins on the basis of talent over performances, but he really does need to start delivering at the highest levels.

In departures: Will Joseph, Guy Porter, Dan Kelly

Joseph is a supremely talented youngster who deserves an extended run but this might just be a tournament that arrives a year too early for him. Porter never lets any team down he’s selected in and can cover wing in an emergency. Slade’s 60 caps have yielded very little in terms of real Test impact and as noted above, the downside of his game means his place is very much in the balance, but for the moment, Kelly is omitted on the basis of balance between 12 and 13.

Book your family holidays: Alex Lozowski, Max Ojomoh, Fraser Dingwall

All three of these gifted players deserve to have had more chances than they’ve had to date. Dingwall is a part of one of the best attacks in the Premiership, whilst Lozowski’s relationship with Farrell shouldn’t be ignored. Ojomoh is, like Joseph, one for the future but behind the Exiles man for now.


On the plane: Owen Farrell, George Ford, Marcus Smith

A very easy selection with the nuance of each player having a defined role – Farrell the starter, Smith the finisher, Ford the cover or option to play 10/12 with Farrell if required. It’s worth noting that probably only France and New Zealand have the depth at 10 that England do – it’s a real position of strength for England and one that needs to be managed strategically to get the very best from the players.

In departures: Fin Smith

The Warrior-cum-Saint has made great strides this season, filling the huge boots of Dan Biggar. He’s one for the future in a position England have incredible depth in.

Book your family holidays: Charlie Atkinson, Orlando Bailey

Atkinson has immense talent but his temperament in big moments simply isn’t up to the mark as evidenced by his fluffed touch kicks in the closing moments of the Premiership semi-finals. Bailey is another gifted player, but with so much talent ahead of him he will have to wait his turn.


On the plane: Ben Youngs, Alex Mitchell, Jack van Poortvliet

For all England’s gifts at 10 the cupboard at nine is rather less well stocked. Van Poortvliet seems to have regressed as a player over the last season and his box-kicking game simply isn’t fast enough at Test level. Mitchell is by far and away the biggest attacking threat but lacks consistency of pass compared to the evergreen Youngs, who will go for his sheer experience and reliability.

In departures: Raffi Quirke, Ben Spencer

If Quirke’s fitness could be relied upon, he’ll be there or thereabouts but he cannot seem to string a series of matches together. Spencer’s renaissance at Bath has been a big part of their resurgence but question marks are still there about his speed of service. Both are great options and will pressure Van Poortvliet.

Book your family holidays: Gus Warr, Danny Care

A few weeks ago we may have considered Warr as a real contender but his kicking game isn’t up to the level of his speed of service. Care is another that can count himself very unlucky but unless you want a pure impact nine, he’s failed to grab his starting chances when given them last year in Australia and that will remain a concern. Although for the record we’d probably take him if we were picking the team.


On the plane: Zach Mercer, Jack Willis, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, George Martin, Lewis Ludlam

A mixture of size and physicality with the addition of the Tigers powerhouse Martin. England need power and lineout ability to compete with the likes of France, Argentina and South Africa and part of that is having a big man at six, where Lawes and Martin can add huge points of difference, with Martin offering cover at lock. Mercer is a shoo-in given his form in the Top 14 and we literally tossed a coin between Ludlam and Billy Vunipola, with the former offering more versatility and also cover at eight.

In departures: Tom Pearson, Ben Earl, Tom Willis, Sam Simmonds, Matt Rogerson, Billy Vunipola

Any of Pearson, Earl or Willis could make a late charge for a slot. Earl has yet to start a Test for England despite 16 caps, but his form has been compelling, as has that of Pearson who is big enough to play as a Test six (indeed, he locked the England U18 scrum). Willis may just be a curve ball – word from France is he’s every bit as good as Mercer, with possibly greater physicality, whilst Simmonds is the man if you want pace in your carrying game. Borthwick is believed to be a big fan of Rogerson but we fail to see what he brings that others do not. We feel awful leaving Vunipola out as he’s been a titan for England, but given the balance needed in the team and his current injury, there’s no way we can select him ahead of the players we’ve chosen.

Book your family holidays: Alex Dombrandt, Will Evans, Lewis Ludlow, Ted Hill, Sam Underhill

The shock omission here will be Dombrandt – he simply hasn’t provided the work rate and physicality needed around the breakdown for a modern Test eight. Hill had the best chance of making the cut but we cannot see him usurping the others we’ve selected, whilst Underhill’s ongoing concussion issues means he’s a risk too great to consider.


On the plane: Maro Itoje, David Ribbans, Joe Launchbury

Given Martin (and to a lesser extent, Lawes’) presence in the back-row selection, we think Borthwick will go with two middle jumpers and Itoje. Jonny Hill is the most physical lock England have and in an age of power he is the enforcer that has been missing, but he will be pushed hard by Launchbury and for now, the former Wasp gets our last slot. Ribbans in the engine room relies upon having a big physical back-row so he can strut his offloading and carrying game in a back five blend.

In departures: Jonny Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Alex Coles

We were so tempted to pick Hill, a man used incredibly poorly by England yet remains one of the very best around. Isiekwe offers peerless lineout ball, good tackle count but isn’t the most powerful around the breakdown. Coles could still make it as a back five hybrid.

Book your family holidays: Charlie Ewels, Freddie Clarke, Ollie Chessum

We include Chessum in here simply because at the time of writing he looks unlikely to make the cut, but never say never. If he achieves fitness in time, he would replace Martin as a back five hybrid option in our ‘on the plane’ selection. The world has moved on from Ewels despite his wholehearted commitment, and if there’s one unsung bolter we’d consider it would be Gloucester’s wonderful Clarke, a hugely underrated player.


On the plane: Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Theo Dan

The importance of George to England cannot be understated – wonderful darts, solid scrummaging and a real mauling nuisance. We include Cowan-Dickie subject to fitness and form as there’s few better if his body can be relied upon. The last slot is a toss up between George McGuigan and Dan, but we feel England need to build and that the young Sarrie has shown enough to get the nod.

In departures: George McGuigan, Jamie Blamire, Tom Dunn

Two uber-mobile running hookers and one carved from granite itself, you pays your money and you takes your choice. It may be that two of these three get a place depending on form and fitness of others. Dunn is the first cab off the rank if George is unfit, with the others offering more of an attacking counterpoint.

Book your family holiday: Dan Frost, Jack Walker, Jack Singleton

Contrasting styles again, with the running and handling of Frost who has made huge strides since moving to Exeter, or the set-piece solidity of the pair of Jacks, Walker and Singleton. It’s another case of choose what you need and pick accordingly.


On the plane: Loosehead: Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola. Tighthead: Kyle Sinckler, Trevor Davison, Dan Cole

England’s depth at loosehead is remarkable whilst at tighthead, there’s simply a lack of big men coming through. We’ve picked a blend of carry and scrummage, with Marler recalled due to his sheer power in the tight – which may well be needed against the likes of Uini Atonio, Frans Malherbe, Taniela Tupou and Tyrel Lomax. Vunipola gets in for his pure work rate and handling, something often overlooked. On the other side, Davison offers solidity but can also play on both sides if required.

In departures: Will Stuart, Simon McIntyre, Bevan Rodd, Val Rapava-Ruskin

If this were our personal selection, Rapava-Ruskin would be one of the first names we wrote down, but we understand that Borthwick believes he needs to do more in terms of work rate off the ball. The two Sale boys offer different skills – McIntyre the tight specialist and Rodd the fourth back-rower, whilst Stuart is the obvious cover at tighthead.

Book your family holiday: Joe Heyes, Harry Williams, Fin Baxter, Will Collier, Tom West

Maybe harsh on Heyes, who never lets anyone down that he plays for, but these men are a big drop off from the ones selected. Collier is still a magnificent scrummager, and Baxter is a year away from a cap, but there’s a few players in front of both at the moment and whilst Baxter’s time will come, Collier’s may well have been and gone.

Planet Rugby’s Rugby World Cup 33 for England

Backs: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Cadan Murley; Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marchant, Ollie Lawrence, Henry Slade; Owen Farrell, George Ford, Marcus Smith; Ben Youngs, Alex Mitchell, Jack van Poortvliet

Forwards: Zach Mercer, Jack Willis, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, George Martin, Lewis Ludlam; Maro Itoje, David Ribbans, Joe Launchbury; Jamie George, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Theo Dan; Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Trevor Davison, Dan Cole

READ MORE: Lawrence Dallaglio: Everything you need to know about the England legend

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