It’s been another tough week for Steve Borthwick as England manager, last Saturday’s abject defeat to Ireland in Dublin was followed by a midweek double whammy when captain Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola were suspended for their recent red cards.
Meanwhile, the team has come in for widespread criticism amid fears the head coach has gone horribly wrong with preparations ahead of the Rugby World Cup kick-off on September 9 in Marseille against Argentina.
None of the sharpness that was promised the longer the Summer Nations Series dragged on has yet materialized and there are concerns that a struggling England may be ripe for an ambush at Twickenham by a fitter Fiji.
Borthwick has made eight changes to his starting XV from last weekend, including the selection of Jonny May on the left wing who wasn’t picked in the official squad of 33 confirmed earlier in August for the World Cup. Here, RugbyPass takes a look at May’s inclusion along with other latest England XV talking points:
May selection confirms latest huge England blow
The naming of May on the England left wing at 12:45pm to take on Fiji was set to be the hot topic when coach Borthwick sat down with the media at Pennyhill on Thursday afternoon to discuss his latest XV. Including a player who wasn’t in the official squad for the World Cup wasn’t an unprecedented gambit.
For the final match ahead of the 2019 tournament in Japan, then-head coach Eddie Jones named the excluded Joe Marchant to start the warm-up win over Italy in Newcastle while forwards Charlie Ewels and Matt Kvesic also came off the bench even though all three weren’t part of the 31-strong squad selected to go to the Far East.
Now, May has made the cut to start even though he missed out on the squad of 33 for France 2023. What gives?
There was no indication at all in the England team media release as to what was going on in the background regarding the wingers that Borthwick had selected to head across the Channel.
Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly were the starting wingers in Dublin last weekend, but they were absent from the teamsheet on this occasion with Max Malins and May respectively handed the No14 and No11 shirts in a back three where Freddie Steward was exhaustively named as the starting full-back for the fourth successive Saturday.
Henry Arundell, the other specialist back three option in the RWC squad, was also missing, meaning he will head to the World Cup having played just one this August – an uninspired effort versus Wales on August 12 in London.
May’s naming suggested there must have been a niggle or two currently limiting the England options and the safest approach for Borthwick was to tread carefully by giving ‘extra man’ May what will be his first cap of 2023.
However, what instead emerged when Borthwick held his media briefing was a major bombshell. Watson has been ruled out for the entire World Cup with a calf injury he picked up in Ireland and has been replaced in the RWC squad by May.
Meanwhile, Daly is nursing a knee injury while Arundell has been struck down by what was described as a “freak back spasm”. This medical bulletin is the latest grim picture in a grim month for England.
The brand-new Lawrence/Tuilagi 13/12 combo
It was August 7, with the dust settling on the official 33 that Borthwick has just confirmed to go to the World Cup, when the coach hinted that the untried partnership of Ollie Lawrence starting with Manu Tuilagi in midfield was a live possibility.
At the time, Borthwick summarised: “I thought Ollie Lawrence, that  It was his first proper Six Nations, he played games and did very, very well until he had to leave that game in France with a hamstring injury. Ollie brings load and is also a very good defender.
“We have different systems in the league for grading performances and in our opinion he rates exceptionally highly as a defender and has defended in 13 or 12 in the Premiership, so he brings that to the table. We know the strengths and experience that Manu brings. I think they can play together if we want to play a specific way.”
For subsequent matches in the Summer Nations Series, Borthwick named the starting partnerships in Lawrence’s midfield at 12 with Joe Marchant against Wales and Tuilagi at 12 with Marchant against Ireland.
It was Tuilagi who Lawrence replaced from the bench for the final 19 minutes in Dublin, but the potential power pair now have the chance to show what they can do as a new midfield combination.
In the nine starts Lawrence has made in his short Test career, seven of those consecutive appearances have come with Henry Slade as his midfield partner, so what awaits him running and defending the channel outside Tuilagi is intriguing. Could this be the bet that suddenly cultivates a new optimism about troubled England?
Three strikers with only seven starts between them
The consensus regarding England last month is that they have been in dire need of a shake-up, so tame and agile their performances have been. Dan Cole’s selection for a close first outing since September 2019 at Kobe is a throwback to much happier times when the English were switching gears en route to reaching the World Cup final.
His inclusion against Fiji highlights how Borthwick has bet the house on Kyle Sinckler, who has made only two substitute appearances in August, to be in top form on 9 September and the likely scrum battle against the Pumas.
However, three selections elsewhere in the group, as the complete opposite of the inclusion of veteran Cole. Between them, the energetic trio Theo Dan (0), Ollie Chessum (5) and Ben Earl (2) have only seven starts between them, but could their lack of experience be just enough to cheer up a brutally lethargic England?
Dan and Earl’s ball-carrying ability was a potent factor in helping the Saracens win the Gallagher Premiership final last May at Twickenham, the rookie hooker coming off the bench after just 11 minutes to impress rather than Jamie George, with a concussion, while Earl enjoyed himself. himself in the number 8 spot with Vunipola injured.
With Vunipola now unavailable for England due to suspension, attention will turn to Earl to see what he can bring to this position at Test level.
By the way, the news about the recovery of Tom Curry was positive. England have insisted that the only player in their squad who will go to France without playing a minute in August is ready to resume full training following his ankle injury.
As for Chessum’s inclusion in the second row against Fiji, he was one of the few players who didn’t damage his reputation last weekend in Dublin, launching into the battle with a nonchalant attitude in his first outing since a sprained ankle ago. 21 weeks. .
Can he now help revive the industrious Itoje next to him in line and secure a starting spot for the World Cup?
#inclusion #Jonny #key #talking #points #England #team