Steve Borthwick has defended his decision to include only one specialist number eight, Billy Vunipola, in England’s World Cup squad. Despite some surprise omissions, such as Henry Slade and Alex Dombrandt, Borthwick believes that Vunipola, who has been recovering from knee surgeries, is in the best shape of his life and will make a significant impact at the tournament. The head coach praised Vunipola’s hard work and experience, noting that he has had the opportunity to work closely with him and understand what the team needs.
Borthwick justified his decision to not take a second specialist number eight, emphasizing the importance of having versatile players who can cover multiple positions in the back row. Lewis Ludlam, Ben Earl, and Tom Curry are all capable of filling in if Vunipola is unavailable. Borthwick highlighted the competition and flexibility within the back row and stated that the decision ultimately comes down to choosing the right combination.
The omission of Slade was attributed to the decision to take three fly-halves, Owen Farrell, George Ford, and Marcus Smith, to ensure sufficient cover in case of injury or suspension. Borthwick acknowledged Slade’s excellent performance during training camps but emphasized the need for positional flexibility in other areas of the team. He encouraged all players who were not selected to be ready to come into the squad, as changes are expected due to the physical nature of the tournament.
Other notable exclusions include Jonny May and Joe Cokanasiga, both of whom represented England in the previous World Cup. In their place, rookie Leicester players Ollie Chessum and George Martin have been included. The squad is well-experienced, with Courtney Lawes, Dan Cole, and Ben Youngs set to appear at their fourth World Cups. Farrell has been confirmed as captain, supported by Lawes and Ellis Genge as vice skippers.
Overall, Borthwick’s selection decisions reflect the importance of versatility and squad depth in a tournament as demanding as the World Cup. The inclusion of Vunipola, despite his injury history, is a testament to his dedication and form, and England will rely on his experience and expertise in the number eight position.