Position-by-position guide to the 10 England cuts made by Borthwick
It was Saturday night when Mako Vunipola was officially ruled out of the England Rugby World Cup selection after Steve Borthwick was asked about the July 23 squad omission of the prop from the in-camp injury rehab group.
That left the head coach with the task of sitting down with his assistants in Cardiff to reduce the squad of 43 players that assembled at Pennyhill for the Summer Nations Series match week one versus Wales to the requisite 33 he is allowed to bring to France for a tournament they will begin versus Argentina in Marseille on September 9.
In the end, Borthwick opted for a selection featuring 19 forwards and 14 backs, a squad that represents 11 clubs with one player – Anthony Watson – listed as unattached. Saracens have the biggest representation with seven players, with Leicester next-best on six and there is also the curiosity of three French clubs gaining representation in the England squad.
Here, RugbyPass sifts through the areas of the team where those 10 final cuts took place:
POSITION-BY-POSITION – THE ENGLAND 33
Picked (3): Theo Dan, Jamie George, Jack Walker
Cut (1): Jamie Blamire
Rookie Theo Dan is the major winner, his 26-minute debut off the bench in Cardiff being considered enough evidence for him to jump ahead of Jamie Blamire in the pecking order. Blamire had his first-half struggles in play away from the scrum and that helped to play him out of the squad.
Picked (3): Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Bevan Rodd
This competition was resolved by Mako Vunipola not being able to make up the ground quickly enough following his back surgery some months ago. Joe Marler was always fancied for selection behind the first-choice Ellis Genge, so Bevan Rodd is the selection who will thank his lucky stars.
His selection chances appeared to have been extinguished when he was dropped after training week five, but he was surprisingly recalled when the uncapped Val Rapava-Ruskin was cut following week six.
Picked (3): Dan Cole, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart
Another position that was settled early. Joe Heyes was cut after training week three and Borthwick was always going to pick three players in this most specialist of positions.
Picked (4): Ollie Chessum, Maro Itoje, George Martin, David Ribbans
Cut (1): Jonny Hill
It was felt that there might not be room to include Ollie Chessum and George Martin, second rows with the ability to cover blindside. However, Borthwick has included the Leicester duo, Martin catching the eye with his very encouraging performance as a starter last Saturday.
The wind was always in the sails of Chessum judging by the glowing testament the coach paid to him last March when it was announced he needed an operation following a training ground ankle injury. Chessum has been listed all through pre-season in the in-camp injury rebab group, but he will soon be ready for action.
The first-choice lock Maro Itoje would have been the first name written down in this sector, leaving a shootout between David Ribbans and Jonny Hill for that final spot. Ribbans started last Saturday and did okay until a HIA put him out on 46 minutes. Eddie Jones’ favourite Hill, though, didn’t sufficiently grasp the opportunity in his first appearance under Borthwick.
Picked (5): Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis
Cut (1): Tom Pearson
This position was influenced by Borthwick opting to go with a single specialist No8 and it meant just one of the six contenders would miss out. In the end, it was Tom Pearson despite fears from pundits such as ex-England international that Ben Earl could be the fall guy. The training ground injury that last week left Tom Curry in a mood boot wasn’t an issue as he will soon be fit again.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 7, 2023
Picked (1): Billy Vunipola
Cut (2): Alex Dombrandt, Tom Willis
Alex Dombrandt is the spectacular loser here having started all six matches of the Borthwick era as the No8. It was clear from those performances that he was struggling, but he has the opportunity last Saturday to spruce up his credentials and he didn’t take it.
Picked (3): Danny Care, Jack van Poortvliet, Ben Youngs
Similar to the prop departments, this position was decided at the end of June when Alex Mitchell was ditched after a couple of weeks of training. England were always going to pick three specialists to avoid the issues they encountered in 2019 when Jones only brought two to Japan.
Picked (3): Owen Farrell, George Ford, Marcus Smith
This was set to be a major position of interest on Monday, but Borthwick killed all speculation about who would get selection when he announced last Thursday that he would be taking three out-and-out out-halves to France, putting an end to the squad selection battle between George Ford and Marcus Smith behind the skipper Owen Farrell.
Picked (3): Ollie Lawrence, Joe Marchant, Manu Tuilagi
Cut (2): Guy Porter, Henry Slade
Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi were always going to be selected, but the same was said of Henry Slade and look what has happened. What Joe Marchant did in the first half in Cardiff last Saturday forced a re-evaluation and it was enough for him to oust Slade from the selection.
Few if anybody ever gave Guy Porter a genuine chance of making the 33. His start last Saturday was more a reward for the training he has done than a platform for him to cause ructions in the way Marchant has.
Picked (5): Henry Arundell, Elliot Daly, Max Malins, Freddie Steward, Anthony Watson
Cut (3): Joe Cokanasiga, Jonny May, Cadan Murley
The writing was on the wall for the omission of Cadan Murley as he had already been axed from the squad a few weeks ago only to be recalled last week to the 41+2 for the match week one preparation against Wales.
With Jonny May not in the match day 23, he was left vulnerable to missing out as he also didn’t play in the Six Nations due to injury. In the end, the debate came down to whether Joe Cokanasiga could do enough on Saturday on his rare start. His hesitancy in the concession of the first Wales try would have counted against him.