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England name 27-strong squad for A team game versus Portugal

By Liam Heagney
The 2021 England A squad at training (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

England have named a 27-strong provisional squad to take Portugal on February 25 in Leicester – including five Test-capped players – in what will be their first A team match since 2016 when they competed as the Saxons on a tour of South Africa.


Jamie Blamire and Tom Pearson, the two forwards omitted from the England senior squad this week, are named, as are Nick Isiewke, Harry Randall and Ollie Hassell-Collins in a group that will have George Skivington as its head coach. An eye-catching omission is Zach Mercer, the No8 who Skivington has as his club boss at Gloucester.

An RFU statement read: “The strong squad includes a blend of experience and youth, with five players already capped at senior level and some younger stars just at the start of their England careers.

“Those capped are Jamie Blamire, Nick Isiewke, Tom Pearson, Harry Randall and Ollie Hassell-Collins. Twenty-one of the 27 players have been brought through the England rugby pathway and achieved caps at either U18 or U20 level within the men’s system.

“The squad was selected by England senior head coach Steve Borthwick in consultation with England A head coach George Skivington, defence coach Dom Waldouck, attack coach Sam Vesty and RFU director of rugby performance Conor O’Shea.


“The squad will assemble at Loughborough University next Tuesday, February 20, to begin preparations for the fixture later that week. The group will also be joined by some of the players that Steve Borthwick doesn’t select for England senior men’s fixture against Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations.”

Borthwick said: “We’re delighted to see the return of A team rugby as such an important part of our rugby’s development and to announce the squad for the forthcoming fixture against Portugal.


“We have a lot of talented and exciting young players in England, and this is a great opportunity for them to show they can play international rugby. We have selected players in this initial squad who we believe have the potential to be in the England team in the very near future.

“One of the very important aspects of this A team is to provide a platform for players who have come out of the U20s and who are playing club rugby, allowing them to experience the international environment.”

England were originally scheduled to revive their second-team programme some years ago with a June 2021 game versus Scotland A at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, but that side coached by John Mitchell had its plans terminated at the 11th hour when covid test alerts led to the cancellation of the match.

Mitchell had named an XV containing 11 players who were uncapped at the time, including Freddie Steward, Ben Curry and Joe Heyes who are currently part of Borthwick’s Six Nations squad ahead of the round three game away to Scotland.


Ollie Lawrence, Ellis Genge and Charlie Ewels were also named to start in that aborted A game, while Beno Obano and George Furbank, two more current first-team squad members, were named on the bench.

Portugal, who beat Fiji and drew with Georgia at the recent Rugby World Cup, got their Rugby European Championship back on track last weekend with a 54-7 win over Poland following an opening round 6-10 loss to Belgium.

England A squad (vs Portugal)
Forwards (16):
Fin Baxter (Harlequins)
Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, 7 caps)
Tarek Haffar (Northampton Saints)
Sam Riley (Harlequins)
Seb Blake (Gloucester)
Josh Iosefa Scott (Exeter Chiefs)
James Harper (Sale Sharks)
Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 11 caps)
Arthur Clark (Gloucester)
Ben Bamber (Sale Sharks)
Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs)
Tom Pearson (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)
Guy Pepper (Newcastle Falcons)
Alfie Barbeary (Bath)
Greg Fisilau (Exeter Chiefs)
Jack Clement (Gloucester)

Backs (11):
Caolan Englefield (Gloucester)
Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, 2 caps)
Charlie Atkinson (Gloucester)
Jamie Shillcock (Leicester Tigers)
Oliver Sleightholme (Northampton Saints)
Oliver Hartley (Saracens)
Rekeiti Ma’asi-White (Sale Sharks)
Cadan Murley (Harlequins)
Ollie Hassell-Collins (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
Josh Hodge (Exeter Chiefs)
Sam Harris (Bath)


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Clive 151 days ago

It wouldn’t be hard to pick a squad from that lot which would give the first team a run for its money.

mike 151 days ago

Is this on live TV, I can’t find it advertised. otherwise another wasted opportunity for the sport ..

Sumkunn Tsadmiova 151 days ago

Zach Mercer must have done something fairly horrible in Borthwick’s tea…

Jeff 151 days ago

Barbeary should be starting against Scotland

finn 151 days ago

It strikes me as very odd that Dan Kelly & Seb Atkinson aren’t involved

I'd have picked the two of them, plus Joe Cokanasiga & Lewis Ludlam for the main England squad. I understand the latter two might be viewed by Borthwick as on their way out, but Atkinson and Kelly will surely be in contention for years to come. I’m particularly surprised Kelly is left out given that he was originally touted to be a starter when Borthwick first took over.

On the plus side, Fisilau is a good inclusion who shouldn’t be far off the main squad.

Mr Easy 151 days ago

I think that re-invigorating the A team is an excellent idea as it provides another clear step in the development pathway for Test players. Not sure how the Clubs feel about it, but if Borthwick has managed to convince them to buy into it, that is a genuine achievement in his tenure. Perhaps it shows what can be achieved with a collaborative approach rather than Eddie Jones’ confrontational nonsense.

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