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Breakthrough Candidates: England

Breakthrough Candidates: England

The Guinness Six Nations is now just a month away and there is plenty of anticipation around who may appear in Steve Borthwick’s first England squad.

Borthwick does not have long to get England up to scratch and there will be chances for new players to stake their claim as the 2020 winners look to compete for the Championship again after a difficult two years.

The former Leicester Tigers head coach seems more likely to pick on form than his predecessor Eddie Jones traditionally did, making it all the more intriguing to see who may find their way into England recognition.

Here are three players who could make a name for themselves in 2023.

Dan Kelly 

With Borthwick making the transition from Leicester Tigers to the national team, it would not be a surprise to see Tigers stars finding themselves in contention for caps.

One of the key men in the reigning Premiership champions’ revolution under Borthwick was inside centre Dan Kelly, who earned his sole England cap under Jones against Canada in July 2021.

Still only 21, Kelly has impressed over multiple seasons in the Premiership, although he missed the final against Saracens last year due to injury.

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A powerful ball carrier, Kelly can fulfil a similar role in an England shirt to the one he excels in for Tigers, running hard lines off first phase ball and getting over the gain line, or looking to free his hands and find gaps. 

Defensively is where Kelly really thrives, forming a formidable defensive partnership with Guy Porter, and his reading of the game puts him ahead of the competition in the Premiership.

Now back from injury and looking back to his best, Kelly could quickly become one of the key members of Borthwick’s England XV and looks set for a big year.

Hugh Tizard 

England have struggled to form a long-term second row pairing for some time, with Courtney Lawes moving to flanker and Joe Launchbury struggling with injuries.

Jonny Hill has become the latest partner of the irreplaceable Maro Itoje but there appears to be scope for Borthwick to form another pairing.

Ollie Chessum has been excellent for Leicester and David Ribbans showed promise in the Autumn Nations Series but one man who seems destined for the very top is Itoje’s Saracens second row partner Hugh Tizard.

Tizard has been one of the standout stars in the Premiership this year alongside Itoje and with so little time before the Guinness Six Nations, relationships in key positions become even more vital.

His 120kg frame makes him an excellent ball carrier and having developed at Harlequins, he has picked up some sensational handling skills, setting him apart from almost every other second row in the league.

Tizard was involved in the England squad in the autumn and it would be a surprise if he was not there again for this year’s Championship – it could be a stellar year for the former England Under-20 star.

Val Rapava-Ruskin 

At 30, Rapava-Ruskin may be considered too old to have a breakthrough year.

But after the season the Georgian-born prop has had, it seems inevitable he will finally earn that England cap and get the long-awaited opportunity to play for his country.

Ellis Genge will likely take the No.1 jersey but who Borthwick picks behind him is unclear, with Mako Vunipola’s scrummaging coming under fire in the Autumn Nations Series and Joe Marler’s discipline again landing him in hot water.

If Borthwick is picking solely on form, he cannot look any further than Rapava-Ruskin, who is surely a shoo-in for the Premiership team of the year as it stands.

A man mountain, the Gloucester prop never seems to go backwards at scrum time and with ball in hand he is incredibly difficult to stop.

Borthwick got the best out of Ellis Genge, James Whitcombe, Dan Cole and Joe Heyes at Tigers, so the thought of him potentially getting even more out of Rapava-Ruskin is one that would terrify any opponent.

With props able to go on longer than most other positions, Rapava-Ruskin may be just entering his prime and, if given the opportunity, will be confident of taking his club form into the international arena.