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'Bit weird': Alex Mitchell on going from England axe to World Cup No9

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Alex Mitchell has described the last two and a half months as a rollercoaster. It was June 30 when it was confirmed by head coach Steve Borthwick that he would not be part of the official England training squad for the Rugby World Cup after two weeks of training that month.

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He quickly drowned his sorrows, heading away to Croatia for a week before heading back to Northampton and continuing his pre-season with them.

The club season starts this Sunday for the Saints with a Premiership Cup visit to Ealing. However, rather than a trip to the Trailfinders, Mitchell has now embarked on a very different path.

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It was August 12 when Borthwick’s first-choice No9 Jack van Poortvliet pulled up lame against Wales at Twickenham, an injury that ended his campaign and resulted in an emergency call two days later for Mitchell to come back in.

He has taken that invite with aplomb, starting the August 26 Summer Nations Series finale versus Fiji and going on to keep hold of the No9 jersey for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina in Marseille.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

3
Wins
3
1
Streak
2
13
Tries Scored
17
-5
Points Difference
37
2/5
First Try
2/5
2/5
First Points
3/5
1/5
Race To 10 Points
2/5

With Danny Care providing bench cover and Ben Youngs overlooked for selection, it’s been quite the turnaround for Mitchell, leaping from the fourth-best scrum-half who was surplus to requirement 10 weeks ago to becoming the starting nine in a half-back partnership with George Ford.

When the training squad cut came, Mitchell had only played five times off the England bench but the 26-year-old is now set for his second successive start in a fortnight and he couldn’t have been happier with life when he spoke after England had finished their eve-of-match visit to Stade Velodrome.

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“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, out of the squad and now back in and getting a shot tomorrow [Saturday]. I’m just massively excited I get an opportunity to play and put my hand up. Looking forward to that. Yeah, it has been a bit weird but very exciting.

“As a kid it’s what you dream of, playing at the top of the game and the World Cup is that. To start the World Cup is a massive honour; my family are massively proud of me. Really looking forward to it and hopefully we can get a result.”

What about that awkward June conversation with Borthwick? Please tell all. “It was a pretty positive conversation, ‘You’re not far off’. Obviously, there is a lot of competition in my position. He just wanted me to go back to my club, still work on my game, still stay fit because anything can happen and be ready.

“That was the conversation that I had so that is what I did. I got one week off to Croatia which was nice, just to reset the batteries, but that was a couple of months ago now. It was nice to get away, relax and then back into focus. I stayed fit, stayed ready and then got the call to come in, trained hard and tried to put my hand up again.”

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What was the lesson looking back on that training squad rejection? “Just appreciate you are still in a really good position, you are still getting paid to play the sport that you love and you are not far off.

“You are in and out and out of camps and you’re still getting opportunities so you can’t get too downhearted on it. You have got to keep your head up, push forward and take your chance when it comes.”

That chance arrives at 9pm local time in France on Saturday night when England look to put a dreadful run of five defeats in their last six matches behind them by starting the World Cup in a winning way versus Argentina.

“Just for me I have just got to try and control the game, get the team to tick and when I can put some energy and tempo into the side I will try and do that. But again, it’s stick to the game plan.

“We know we are a good side when we play well and stick to our style of play. The main thing is to do that and bring that X-factor out after that if you can.”

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