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The point of difference that convinced England to pick Ben Earl

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

England boss Steve Borthwick has explained the reason why Ben Earl was included in the 33-strong Rugby World Cup squad and not one of the 10 players omitted from the selection. The Saracens flanker played just twice off the Test bench in the opening rounds of the Guinness Six Nations earlier the year before being excluded for the remainder of the tournament.

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He bounced back by helping Saracens to clinch the Gallager Premiership title with an excellent showing in the final at Twickenham, but doubts remained over his fortunes with England.

For example, retired international Austin Healey feared that Earl would be the big name to miss out on World Cup selection despite how well he had played for his club.

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In the end, No8 Alex Dombrandt was the England back row regular who missed out, with last Saturday’s debut-making duo Tom Pearson and Tom Willis also excluded. That left Earl chosen as one of the five flankers –Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam and Jack Willis were the other four) with Billy Vunipola named as the sole No8.

Why was Borthwick now suddenly placing full trust in Earl, someone who has yet to start for England as all 15 of his caps so far have been as a replacement? “He brings a point of difference in his attacking game and also his athleticism,” suggested the England head coach.

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“He is someone who can add enormous value to the squad… his ability to work on edges in attack is a different dimension to the other back row forwards. The other thing that interests me is he featured in the Six Nations, a couple of games and was in the squad, trained with the squad regularly during the week and I asked him to go away and work on a couple of things.

“Richard Hill checked in every week as part of a review, debrief process and Ben Earl was so diligent in actually applying those things in his game and seeing change in his game. I thought he was very, very good.”

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Earl confirmed he had learned a lot when losing out on selection earlier in 2023. “I was gutted not to be playing but what I learned was there was still a real good opportunity to help the team – and that is something that maybe four years ago I would haven’t had that perspective.

“I was with the team the whole of the campaign, coming in on Thursdays to train with the team two days before a Test match, and I actually learned quite a lot about myself, learned what a good teammate is and what I wanted to be.

“Everyone can be on top form and be a great teammate when they are playing and in the 23 but sometimes when you are not playing, that is the real test and that is why this squad has been brilliant, that you have got a lot of characters that are like that but the team is the most important thing and everyone wants to play.

“Just because you are not playing doesn’t mean you are not necessarily a good player. It’s kind of the player you are doesn’t fit that weekend and that is definitely something that Steve has been thinking about, the set-up of the team.

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“Something I have learned is just because you are not playing doesn’t mean you are not in the top four or five players in my position. Maybe just the kind of player you are you don’t fit that week and the plan. That is something I learned and hopefully I will use it to a certain extent in the coming month.

“Over the last two years, I had a bit of an up-and-down journey with England in terms of being in and out of squads and having some highs and lows with the club as well. I’m probably a bit more of a mature, more rounded individual as much as a player. Showing those aspects off the pitch is as important.

“You do have to pinch yourself and say, ‘You are going to the World Cup’. It seemed at times over the last 18 months to be a long way off. I’m over the moon but Steve is now pushing you to try and get a starting place, pushing you to be involved in that first game against Argentina and the only way to do that is to train and play well over the next two, three weeks.”

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Comments

4 Comments
R
Richard 308 days ago

I have to say Liam, for the life of me I can't understand how they will be playing Vunipola at 8.
Pleased to see Dombrandt dropped, he just wasn't up to the pace, but are we really saying it's Dombrandt or Vunipola?
Vunipola has great strength but not great fitness for international level

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