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FEATURE Borthwick's Babes primed to take New Zealand by storm

Borthwick's Babes primed to take New Zealand by storm
1 month ago

The England back line which arrives in Japan on Thursday is a collection item. Not so much in terms of talent – although there is plenty of that on the plane – but in terms of caps.

Of the 16 backs picked, 11 are still in single figures when it comes to appearances for their country. Only one, Henry Slade, has raised his bat for passing 50. Slade was not even in England’s World Cup squad but, having been recalled for the Six Nations, his experience is suddenly invaluable.

It is the time in the World Cup cycle when teams are naturally refreshing and rebuilding but even so the overhaul behind the scrum for England is arresting. Circumstances have conspired to create a cumulative new-broom effect which is both stimulating and at the same time alarming.

If the summer tour was solely to Japan then this would not be any sort of concern. A game against the Brave Blossoms is just the sort of fixture in which you would want to blood young innocents. England have never lost to Japan and whatever ruses Eddie Jones comes up with, that unblemished record is unlikely to change in Tokyo a week on Saturday.

Dan Cole Joe Marler
Dan Cole and Joe Marler will take on mentoring roles with such a young, inexperienced squad (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

But there are also two Test matches in the altogether more challenging environment of New Zealand inked in which will ask some searching questions of a callow group.

It is a hothousing opportunity for sure but there is also a chance England could get burned.

This is presumably why Steve Borthwick was so desperate to take gnarled old forward warriors like Dan Cole and Joe Marler on tour.

He has also named Maro Itoje, who will pass his 30-game limit for the season on the trip, but in this situation the England head coach felt he could not afford to be without him.

Nor did he want to leave Tom Curry behind despite the warnings of Sale’s director of rugby Alex Sanderson.

Marcus [Smith] should logically be the next cab off the rank. He was pencilled in to play in the Six Nations until he went down injured and the door was reopened to George Ford.

The books have to be balanced somehow. Someone has to show the kids the ropes because there is a decent chance that both the back three and the starting half-backs will have fewer than 20 caps in each unit.

At scrum-half Borthwick is certain to go with his senior No 9, Alex Mitchell, who has 15, for the All Blacks Tests.

Partnering him will be one of the Smiths – either Marcus, who has 32, or Fin, who has two.

Marcus should logically be the next cab off the rank. He was pencilled in to play in the Six Nations until he went down injured and the door was reopened to George Ford.

This is the tour when he should be offered the chance to show he can be trusted to run the England show, just as he does the Harlequins circus.

Marcus Smith
With George Ford and Owen Farrell out of the picture, it is time for Marcus Smith to make the 10 shirt his own (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

But there is a well-informed school of thought that Borthwick will instead go with 22-year-old Fin in the hope of piggybacking on the cohesion he and Mitchell would naturally bring given they are clubmates at Premiership kingpins Northampton.

Half-back has been Care/Youngs and Ford/Farrell territory for so long that England have been able to put out partnerships with 200 caps in recent times. This would place them at completely the opposite end of the spectrum.

If Borthwick does pick the Saints duo, England will be travelling incredibly light on international ringcraft in a key decision-making zone.

“It’s good to see a new crop coming through and new players putting their hands up – there is a lot of competition about which is good – but like Owen, Ben Youngs was a massive voice in that squad so not having them there in the Six Nations felt a bit weird

England have already had to partially adjust to the changing of the half-back guard. During the Six Nations Mitchell was asked about the fact there were no Ben Youngs or Owen Farrell around the England camp anymore.

“Every time I had been in an England squad Ben had been involved,” said Mitchell.

“It’s good to see a new crop coming through and new players putting their hands up – there is a lot of competition about which is good – but like Owen he was a massive voice in that squad so not having them there in the Six Nations felt a bit weird.”

For Youngs and Farrell, now read Danny Care – retired – and George Ford – injured – too. Another pair of the most influential drivers of the squad are not there.

Ollie Sleightholme
Steve Borthwick has picked on form and Ollie Sleightholme will hope he can attack leaden-footed defences on tour (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

With no Courtney Lawes or Manu Tuilagi anymore either and Elliot Daly on parental leave, others in the squad had better find their voices and quickly.

In one sense, the New Zealand leg of the trip is a free shot. England do not win too often in New Zealand and will not be expected to do so this time around but it will do them no good whatsoever to take two heavy defeats.

New Zealand will feel, from a distance, that they can get to England’s backline but what the tourists will at least have in their favour is the element of surprise.

The uncapped wings Olly Sleightholme – the league’s top try scorer this season – and Tom Roebuck are rapid. Roebuck’s Sale teammate Joe Carpenter is a lively full-back addition too.

The man who could make the biggest mark this summer though and the wing who is likely to start alongside Tommy Freeman and George Furbank in an exciting back three is Manny Feyi-Waboso.

The man who could make the biggest mark this summer though and the wing who is likely to start alongside Tommy Freeman and George Furbank in an exciting back three is Manny Feyi-Waboso.

The 21-year-old Exeter Chief is a tackle bumper and space maker who England pinched from under Wales’s noses to make his debut in the Six Nations. England need to make the most of their good fortune in landing him.

The game Borthwick seems set on playing now after extracting the team from the snore-inducing rugby he set off with is one which should show off Feyi-Waboso’s eye-catching skill set.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
Manny Feyi-Waboso has emerged as one of the most exciting talents in years on the wing for England (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

It looks from his selections for the tour that the England head coach is intent on persevering with a faster, more attacking game.

If they stick to their course, they will effectively be playing the All Blacks at their own game – and the All Blacks play it pretty well.

There are all sorts of risks coming up on the horizon and it could all go wrong but there is a thrill about this mission too.

If the new recruits can hold their heads above water against the All Blacks then on the back of their encouraging end to the Six Nations the future will look bright for England.

One way or another it is going to be a tour to remember for Borthwick’s Babes.

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Comments

46 Comments
B
Bull Shark 39 days ago

But seriously though. I think it’s cute anyone thinks England is going to win a game in NZ.

B
Bull Shark 39 days ago

Talk about click bait.

I came here to find out more about Borthwickes “Babes”. Instead this!

I can’t wait to see Razor’s Angels. Or Rassie’s Bokkies. Schmidtty’s Sheila’s?

T
Timmyboy 39 days ago

Can I just say how refreshing it is too see NZ & England fans having a good debate in the comments, after so much SA involvement in our NH rugby , I’ve gotten used to their bad attitude. Cheers NZ !

P
Poorfour 39 days ago

It’s also worth noting that the front row are very inexperienced. Marler, George and Cole will finish the series on 299 caps between them if they each appear in each game, but Will Stuart, on 30-odd caps, has more than the rest of the front row players put together.

However you cut it, it’s going to be a very new looking England team, albeit with most of the players having featured at some point in the last couple of years. How they do against the ABs will be a good test of where they are in their development. I don’t expect wins - but a competitive couple of games would be encouraging.

T
T-Bone 39 days ago

On paper and form this appears an even series

I’ll be disappointed at a 1-1 and massively disappointed if the English win 2-0

For every kiwi saying England won’t win just look at their recent form and their club teams

And a timely reminder of the issues at lock for the ABs and a new coaching group
But it’s exciting too - lots of talent to pick from

The big area I see England having an advantage is at the ruck
The ABs are fairly devoid of pilferers. Sevu Reece is probably the best!

J
Jon 40 days ago

It is a hothousing opportunity for sure but there is also a chance England could get burned.
Could be the elephant in the room that this happens first up against Japan and NZ get the rough end of the stick, a pricked and fired up England side.
One wonders how their backs to combine though. Tough ask to have this countered by the simple unknown. NZ won’t be new but wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t mean England were comfortable with knowing what theyre up against.

S
Steve 40 days ago

Itoje may be a good person to have in camp, to help the less experienced internationals. The playing rules (time and games) are there for a reason. To break them is not setting a good example and could be used as a precedence in the future.

f
finn 40 days ago

“He has also named Maro Itoje, who will pass his 30-game limit for the season on the trip, but in this situation the England head coach felt he could not afford to be without him.”

I think it would be a massive shame is Itoje was allowed to go over the 2400 minute limit. He has 102 minutes left so could start one game and come off the bench in the other. We need to build depth at lock, so pairing some combination of Ewels, Coles, and Martin could be worthwhile.

“If they stick to their course, they will effectively be playing the All Blacks at their own game – and the All Blacks play it pretty well.”

Defensively though, England and the ABs couldn’t be further apart, and I think its in defence that Feyi-Waboso will really shine. He’s basically like a beefed up Cheslin Kolbe. Add to that the fact that Tommy Freeman not only has great defensive positioning, but also seems to be developing into one of the best in the world in the kick chase. I don’t think there’s a single pair of wingers in world rugby who Felix Jones would rather work with.

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