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England Rugby World Cup squad hits and misses

By PA
Joe Marchant and Alex Dombrandt (Getty Images)

England head coach Steve Borthwick’s World Cup squad announcement has delivered its share of surprises.

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Here, the PA news agency looks at selection successes and some big names who have missed out.

HITS
Joe Marchant (Stade Francais)
Marchant is among 16 players in the squad with no World Cup experience, but his ability to threaten opposition defences as either a centre or wing cannot be questioned. He was one of the few successes during England’s tame warm-up defeat against Wales on Saturday, and he will relish stepping on to the sport’s biggest stage in France.

Theo Dan (Saracens)
Saracens hooker Dan has enjoyed a rapid rise in terms of England recognition. London-born to Romanian parents, he only made his full Premiership debut 10 months ago and gained a first England cap against Wales on Saturday. He has excelled in the Premiership, and is one of three hookers named in Borthwick’s group alongside Dan’s club colleague Jamie George and Harlequins forward Jack Walker.

David Ribbans (Toulon)
South Africa-born lock Ribbans, who qualifies for England via an English grandmother, established himself among the Premiership’s most consistent performers during his time at Northampton. His international breakthrough came during the Autumn Nations series last year, and he now makes Borthwick’s cut ahead of a player like Sale Sharks’ experienced Test second-forward Jonny Hill.

MISSES
Henry Slade (Exeter)
Exeter centre Slade’s absence is undoubtedly the major surprise sprung by Borthwick. He offers vast experience, with 57 caps, and was widely expected to be among England’s midfield options alongside players like Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi. Selected pair Marchant and Elliot Daly, though, potentially offer more positional versatility, which might have gone against the 30-year-old.

Jonny May (Gloucester)
Only Rory Underwood has scored more tries for England than Gloucester wing May. His 35 touchdowns in 72 Tests underline a finisher of the highest quality, but he had lost ground in the race for a back-three place. Reputation alone might have swayed some coaches in terms of selection, but not Borthwick. At 33, it remains to be seen if May plays Test rugby again.

Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)
After Harlequins number eight Dombrandt played a prominent role during his club’s Premiership title-winning campaign of 2020-21, it appeared that sustained England recognition would follow. But despite having a number of opportunities at Test level, he has never delivered consistency, and Borthwick has gone with just one specialist number eight – Saracens’ Billy Vunipola – for the World Cup.

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