Updated:Jan 10, 2023
With England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland fast approaching, I look at five players who could force their way into Borthwick’s starting XV.
1. Cadan Murley
Murley hasn’t been knocking at the door so much as hammering it down. He’s scored eight tries so far this season in the Gallagher Premiership while leading the way in metres gained, clean breaks, and defenders beaten. Murley was part of England’s squad in the autumn but was deprived of any minutes, despite being the Premiership’s form winger. He combines electric pace and lethal finishing abilities, as demonstrated by his superb airborn score against Northampton earlier this season. But Murley is more than just pace; he’s an excellent defender, benefitting from his experience of playing at 13. He’s also a tenacious carrier, always eking out every possible yard, stretching every sinew to get over the gain line. Having played flanker as a teenager, he’s not opposed to sticking his head in a breakdown, either. Ironically, he possesses many qualities of the man whose shirt he may take, Jack Nowell. The wing spots are up for grabs, an area where England rarely settled over the autumn. Surely Murley deserves the nod?
- 2. Tom Pearson
Pearson has been in superb form for London Irish all season and is the Premiership’s top tackler, demonstrating his high work rate. He will be seeking to emulate Alex Dombrandt, a fellow alumnus of Cardiff Met who has gone on to receive international recognition. Pearson, like Murley, has been part of squads without making an appearance. He boasts an all-court game, effective in the tight exchanges and able to gallop in the open spaces with an impressive turn of speed. He’s a direct and aggressive carrier, something England lacked in the autumn. Like Dombrandt, he possesses a natural rugby brain, able to pick clever running lines, and with deft handling skills to match. Tom Curry’s injury may well open up an opportunity for Pearson, whose speed would bring a different dimension to England’s back row.Embed from Getty Images
- 3. Ollie Lawrence
Lawrence has been a revelation for Bath since signing for them in the wake of Worcester’s financial collapse. He’s been instrumental in Bath’s recent resurgence in performances, providing a powerful presence in the midfield. Lawrence’s international career never really got off the ground under Eddie Jones, last appearing in the summer of 2021, scoring a try in England’s win over the United States. Lawrence’s inclusion likely depends on whether Borthwick opts for a secondary ball player at inside centre, though Farrel’s potential suspension could open the door for the powerful centre. Lawrence has been playing 13 for Bath and could face a shoot-out with Manu Tuilagi for one of the midfield births; it is doubtful Borthwick would field them both together. Lawrence is a powerful athlete and a destructive dynamic ball carrier, but he has also shown in recent weeks he can be a menace at the breakdown as well. On form, Lawrence deserves a shot.Embed from Getty Images
- 4. Dan Cole
Dan Cole is reportedly in line for an England recall, with Tigers head coach Richard Wigglesworth confirming that Cole attended a conditioning camp last week. Cole’s qualities will be well known to Borthwick, though it is still a shock considering he’s been in the international wilderness since the 2019 World Cup final. But Cole has been in excellent form all season, recently passing 300 appearances for the Tigers, a testament to his longevity in a position that takes no prisoners. England are relatively light at tighthead; with Will Stuart and Will Collier both suffering long-term injuries, leaving a vacancy behind Kyle Sinckler. Yet Cole, at 35 years old, is hardly suited to the role of an impact sub, while similarly, there would be very little merit in having him in the camp for the experience. Borthwick may well opt for Cole’s scrummaging expertise from the start, utilising Sinckler’s dynamism from the bench. Age is irrelevant in a World Cup year, so don’t be surprised to see Cole adding to his 95 caps.Embed from Getty Images
- 5. Ben Earl
The Saracens flanker is another player exhibiting exceptional form, producing another superb performance last Friday in Saracens’ dramatic win over Gloucester. Earl is definitely in the mix, having attended England’s recent conditioning camp. He will hope for a fresh start under Borthwick, having received the cold shoulder treatment from Eddie Jones, winning his last cap in March 2021 despite being named Premiership player of the season last summer. Earl has arguably become Saracens’ key player, a destructive, dynamic bowling ball of a flanker, abrasive but fleet-footed, with some serious gas to boot. Earl is like a limpet over the ball, and if Tom Curry’s hamstring keeps him sidelined, he represents England’s best poaching threat. The back row is a hotbed of competition, with Early likely vying with Tom Pearson, Ben Curry, and Ted Hill, all of whom have displayed excellent recent form. A lot will depend on if Borthwick exercises Jones’ penchant for playing second-rows on the blinside. If not, I would fully expect Earl to feature.Embed from Getty Images