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England stars set for final Rugby World Cup auditions as Steve Borthwick prepares squad

Jun 11, 2023Jun 11, 2023

England's last World Cup selection meeting will have reached its very final throes if Steve Borthwick finds himself on a late-night walk around Cardiff tomorrow.

Borthwick will convene his full coaching staff in the Welsh capital for one final World Cup squad deliberation.

Not content with taking on Wales at the Principality Stadium in the early evening, England boss Borthwick is ready to burn the midnight oil finalising his World Cup line-up.

England will take 33 players to the World Cup in France, and will kick off their campaign by facing Argentina in Marseille on September 9.

Borthwick will name his squad on Monday, having informed his players personally of his decisions the day before. He is already "pretty clear" on the bulk of his selections, but the back-row and the back-three remain clouded by strength and depth.

The ultra-diligent Borthwick will always canvass his assistants' opinions, but in the end the 43-year-old knows the final calls are his and his alone.

"There are moments when you just take a walk and spend some time on your own, to think things through," said Borthwick. "You've got the opinions of others and you've got the facts, so you just need some time to think it through."

Borthwick might find himself staring at an illuminated Cardiff Castle envisioning composite faces of his World Cup probables flashing up on the medieval fort, should that last selection meeting prove particularly fraught.

England will take nine front-row forwards to France, with injury issues over hooker Jack Walker and Mako Vunipola the main final sticking points.

If England take 19 forwards, then Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum and George Martin seem solid choices at lock. Chessum and Martin offer powerful scrummaging in the tighthead lock berth, while vice-captain Courtney Lawes will cover second-row and back-row.

Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry and Jack Willis are all shoo-ins, leaving seven players potentially fighting it out for three spots in the scrum's back-five.

Alex Dombrandt, Tom Pearson, Tom Willis, Lewis Ludlam, Ben Earl, Jonny Hill and David Ribbans will all be hoping to have proved their point to squeeze into the final reckoning.

Pearson proved a Gallagher Premiership scourge last term, and the 23-year-old has since set the physical tone in England's summer training squad.

A Test debut awaits in the Welsh capital, where his exploits at Cardiff Met University propelled him into the Premiership in the first place.

Dombrandt's game-breaking abilities at No 8 retain strong admiration in England's coaching ranks, while Willis bullied his way around the Top 14 for Bordeaux last year.

Ludlam's character is such that the flanker would never let anyone down in anything, and certainly not when it comes to his rugby.

Earl's muscular and pacy play can offer a high-octane option, and then Hill and Ribbans carry weight as enforcers to boot. Behind the scrum, Borthwick's admission that he will take three fly-halves fairly clarifies the scenario, with Marcus Smith all-but on the plane.

Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence will offer central physicality, and Henry Slade midfield ingenuity, which could leave Guy Porter and Joe Marchant up against it. Elliot Daly's outside-back cordon versatility surely sees him make the cut, with Anthony Watson and Max Malins premier options.

Freddie Steward is nailed-on at full-back, while young tyro Henry Arundell can deliver on his rich promise in France. Joe Cokanasiga and Jonny May could be the two with work to do out wide, but both have the credentials to thrive on the biggest stage.