Steve Borthwick reveals how Manu Tuilagi reacted to England axe
New England boss Steve Borthwick has explained how Manu Tuilagi reacted when he told the Sale midfielder that he was not picked to play Scotland in this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener. Tuilagi had been a selection favourite under Eddie Jones, Borthwick’s predecessor as head coach, and he started three of the four recent Autumn Nations Series matches, coming off the bench in the other game.
However, having named Tuilagi in the reduced England squad of 29 that was announced on Tuesday evening to continue preparing for the Calcutta Cup fixture, it emerged on Thursday that the centre had been omitted from the match day 23.
Borthwick has instead chosen the Stade Francais-bound Joe Marchant to start at outside centre alongside skipper Owen Farrell, with Ollie Lawrence providing backup from the bench. For both Marchant and Lawrence, their inclusion is a marked difference from their fortunes under Jones. Marchant was excluded from the entire November series while Lawrence hasn’t been capped since 2021.
Asked how Tuilagi reacted to the news that he wouldn’t be playing for England in this weekend’s fixture, Borthwick said: “Manu was the incredible professional that he is. We spoke, I told him what I had decided selection-wise and we shook hands and then he went and trained really hard. That reaction is testimony to him and his character.
“And not just him, there were several players in that way and ultimately what we want to build here is a team that is not something about selection, it’s a team that is building and going forward to try and win for England which means you have got to train hard every day.
“We want to build a team that is not just about getting picked, it’s about going and playing well and that is what we want as a team. We want this team playing well and players are fighting for selection, players are working on the training field. They know I am watching and taking notice of it and when I have those conversations, I give the players clear feedback.”
Borthwick, who confirmed that Tuilagi was definitely fit and available for selection, explained why he had opted to start Marchant on this occasion and include Lawrence on the bench at the expense of Tuilagi. “I look at the combinations for the game, this specific game, and I look at what Joe offers in terms of the work on the edge, his ability to cover ground defensively, attack. And OIlie Lawrence has played tremendously well this season.
“We will always be excited about seeing Ollie Lawrence out there again in an England shirt. Again, he is a player who has not been in the international environment for a year or two but you see when players play well. Everyone would say whether he is centre or wing, Joe Marchant has played well week in, week out at Harlequins for a considerable period of time now and you could say the same for Ollie Lawrence.
“Again I come back to this, these players are working hard to deserve their opportunity and they are desperate for that opportunity against Scotland. The players can’t wait to get on the pitch and personally I can wait to see them get on the pitch.”
Borthwick added that Tuilagi’s exclusion isn’t intended to be a long-term decision. “I picked a team for this week and there is competition and the nature is there should always be good players that aren’t in the 23 because that is what we want with England. We want depth in every position, people competing for the shirt, and we want to see players fighting for the shirt. You make the selection for this week for a specific opponent and then next week is a new week.”
Borthwick’s first team selection contained a total of eight changes to the starting England XV from the side that Jones had picked for his final match in charge, the November loss to South Africa. Max Malins, Marchant, the debut-making Ollie Hassell-Collins, Ellie Genge, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Ben Curry and Alex Dombrandt were all named as starters on this occasion.
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