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The bottom line for this England team - Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
(Photo by Julian Finney/World Rugby via Getty Images)

It might be the game nobody wants to play in but England won’t want to lose the third place play-off and hopefully we’ll get a glimpse into the future under Steve Borthwick.

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A fair bit will change behind the scenes between now and the Six Nations and there’ll be a small but significant turnover of players but England adopted a very specific style to compete in this World Cup and that can’t continue for the next four years.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work, it nearly got them into a World Cup final, but we need to see more with ball in hand from players that are more than capable of getting bums off seats as we build towards the future and that should start against Argentina.

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Henry Arundell is the most obvious example and I know it was a wet night for the semi-final but I still can’t quite fathom how we haven’t seen him unleashed since he scored five tries in his only previous appearance at this tournament against Chile.

England attack Malins verdict
(Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Spare a thought for Max Malins as well, who has lit up the Premiership in recent seasons but whose only game at this World Cup was on the other wing watching Arundell run in all those tries.

It’s exciting to see Theo Dan getting a start at hooker and he really could be the future if the early stages of his Saracens career are anything to go by. Of course, the nuts and bolts of his game aren’t at the level of his mentor Jamie George yet but he looks devastating in the loose.

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Joe Marchant has had a good tournament but it’s interesting to see him starting again given that he’s off to Stade Francais and unavailable for selection for the foreseeable future. Ollie Lawrence has been impressive off the bench and I’d have given him a chance to start.

Owen Farrell has only just turned 32 and, having seen what Johnny Sexton has done this year, I don’t think there’s much doubt he’s going to carry on and probably smash all sorts of records on his way to trying to make the next World Cup.

Whether he continues as captain is a debate for another day but it’s great to see Marcus Smith starting at full back once more with Freddie Steward on the wing. Both have excelled in different ways and perhaps we will see Smith hold on to the number 15 jersey as the Borthwick era develops.

England <a href=
Rugby World Cup team Springboks” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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The personnel has obviously changed somewhat from last week and will do so again in 2024 but I think it’s more of a mindset shift that we’re looking for against the Pumas. Hopefully the players have had chance to have a few beers, play a bit of golf and relax as much as you can in a Borthwick camp and we might see them play with a bit more freedom as a result.

The third place play-off might be a game that nobody wants to play in but it isn’t a match you want to lose either so it isn’t a case of chucking the ball about like the Barbarians but the shackles should be loosened at least.

To be fair to Borthwick, as well as the fact that he adopted a specific plan that he thought was best to win right now, neither team tried to play any rugby in the semi-final last Saturday but it’s only England’s style that has really been criticised.

However, they didn’t make a single line break in the entire game and you’d hope that we won’t see another game during his tenure as head coach where that is the case as he adds more layers to his game plan in attack.

One of the biggest changes looking ahead is that this looks set to be Kevin Sinfield’s last match on the coaching staff, which it’s fair to say wasn’t part of the original plan.

Sinfield England Larder World Cup pep talk
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Felix Jones was always coming in from South Africa but Sinfield is now reportedly exiting stage left and he has done a brilliant job with England’s defence at this World Cup after taking time to get his feet under the table.

England had the most experienced squad at this tournament in terms of the number of caps and we’ve seen Courtney Lawes announce that he’s played his last game this week after a stellar international career that started so long ago that I was alongside him on the bench when he made his debut.

He will go down as an England great and so will Ben Youngs, who plays his final Test in the third place play-off. He’ll be disappointed not to have played a more prominent role during the past seven weeks but it’s great to see him get a big send-off after everything he’s put in over the years.

There might not have been announcements about Danny Care and Dan Cole but this will surely be their final games in an England jersey and we may well have seen the last of some others too so hopefully they get to go out on a high.

The bottom line is that, aside from the Chile game, England have focused solely on getting the win in France so far. They won’t care any less about getting the win against Argentina but they can probably worry a bit less about losing and play with a bit more freedom.

Faf de Klerk
Faf de Klerk of South Africa looks on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 semi final match between England and South Africa at Stade de France on October 21, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

That game is merely the amuse bouche this weekend, though, ahead of what should be an epic World Cup final and it’s a classic clash of styles really that’s evident just looking at the team selections.

Personally, I think going into a World Cup final with a 7/1 split on the bench is strange but it worked for South Africa against New Zealand at Twickenham in August and they clearly think it can do so again.

The thinking behind it is obvious and it might prove to be a masterstroke but it’s a hell of a risk not having Cobus Reinach or another number nine in the match day 23 for me.

One injury in the backs and they have adequate cover everywhere, with the possible exception of Faf de Klerk because I’m not sure you’d fancy having Cheslin Kolbe at scrum half. Two injuries and it looks bonkers and there’s no team better at exploiting a specific weakness than the All Blacks.

Rain is forecast for Saturday night in Paris and that certainly plays into both selection and the way the game might play out. It’s a tough one to call and a lot of neutrals will want New Zealand to win with their more expansive style but I think the Springboks’ power might just see them through.

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