England World Cup squad: Steve Borthwick says positional ‘flexibility’ key to selection

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On Monday, England’s Rugby World Cup squad was announced, and the players were involved in a photoshoot and interviews with the media. England coach Steve Borthwick emphasized the importance of “positional flexibility” when selecting his squad. Unfortunately, this meant leaving out players like Henry Slade and Alex Dombrandt. Borthwick acknowledged that there are good players who won’t be selected due to the limited number of spots available. Slade, who has played in 30 of England’s past 37 Tests, was a notable omission from the squad. Borthwick explained that in key positions like the front row, scrum-half, and fly-half, they decided to have three players, which meant they had to make compromises in other areas of the team.

Borthwick highlighted the flexibility they have in the center position, with players like Joe Marchant, Elliot Daly, Ollie Lawrence, and Manu Tuilagi able to play at 12 or 13. Owen Farrell’s ability to play at 10 or 12 also adds versatility to the squad. Another talking point was the inclusion of only one specialist number eight, Billy Vunipola, who hasn’t played since April due to a knee injury. Borthwick assured that Vunipola is as fit as ever and believes they have enough options in that position, with players like Lewis Ludlam, Ben Earl, and Tom Curry able to fill multiple roles.

The England squad features a mix of youth and experience, with 16 players from the team that reached the final in 2019. The youngest player selected is 20-year-old Henry Arundell, while Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes, and Dan Cole will be appearing in their fourth World Cup. Captain Owen Farrell, alongside Lawrence, Earl, and Jack van Poortvliet, spoke about the excitement of playing in a World Cup. Farrell stressed the importance of not wasting the opportunity and enjoying the experience.

Farrell mentioned that he planned to speak to Slade, with whom he had been sharing a room during the training camp. He acknowledged that competition for spots is fierce, and there will always be good players who miss out on selection. Earl revealed that his inclusion in the squad was confirmed in a conversation with Borthwick the morning after England’s warm-up loss to Wales. Van Poortvliet, who will compete with Youngs and Danny Care for the starting scrum-half position, shared the emotional moment when he informed his family of his call-up.

England’s World Cup campaign will begin with a match against Argentina on September 9 in Marseille. They will also face Japan, Chile, and Samoa in Pool D. Prior to the opener, they have warm-up fixtures against Wales, Ireland, and Fiji.

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