Steve Borthwick has named his first squad as England head coach and there are no shortage of talking points, most notably the selection of Owen Farrell as captain.
Farrell will return from suspension for England’s opener against Scotland, where Courtney Lawes is expected to make his return from injury as vice-captain, a position he will share with Ellis Genge.
Among those returning to the squad after a spell in the wilderness are Dan Cole, Ben Earl and Elliot Daly, while wing wizards Ollie Hassell-Collins and Cadan Murley could win their first international caps.
Borthwick reiterated that changes could arrive later down the line, but with his first training squad locked in, let’s take a look at those players who will be bursting with excitement ahead of kick-off in Round 1.
𝗦𝗤𝗨𝗔𝗗 𝗔𝗡𝗡𝗢𝗨𝗡𝗖𝗘𝗠𝗘𝗡𝗧 🚨
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 16, 2023
Farrell gets the nod as captain
Owen Farrell captained England during the Autumn Nations Series but there was a feeling that had Courtney Lawes been fit, he would have been the one to lead out his country.
Borthwick, who has known Farrell since he was a teenager at Saracens, was adamant that the veteran fly-half would be his main man, suggesting his position in the starting XV is secure.
He will be assisted by Lawes, who has only played 141 minutes of rugby so far this season due to injury, and Genge, who skippered Borthwick’s Leicester Tigers side to the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership title.
England’s boss remained tight-lipped on exactly where Farrell would feature in his back line, with Smiths Marcus and Fin the alternatives at fly-half and a host of options to choose from in the midfield.
George Ford, another player Borthwick knows well and regards highly, has not been included on this occasion as he continues his recovery after a prolonged spell on the sidelines, but could yet feature later in the Championship.
Cole headlines returning stars
Prop Dan Cole has not pulled on the English rose since the 2019 Rugby World Cup final but he is among a set of big names who could return next month.
The oldest member of the England squad at the age of 35, Cole will fight for the No.3 shirt alongside Kyle Sinckler and clubmate Joe Heyes.
Also back in the fold are the Saracens pair of Elliot Daly and Ben Earl, who have both played key roles in their club’s excellent record so far this term, with just one defeat across 15 domestic and European matches.
Borthwick previously stated that every player would be handed a fresh start under his rule and the likes of Joe Marchant, Nick Isiekwe, Alex Mitchell and Max Malins also have the chance to resurrect their international careers.
As will No.8 Alex Dombrandt, who returns to the squad for the first time since the 2022 Championship, taking the place of the more experienced Billy Vunipola.
And so it looks as if Borthwick has settled on a happy blend of youth and experience, with five uncapped players ready to challenge the more established names who hold more than 1,000 Test caps between them.
Fresh faces ready to take flight on the wing
The position which has arguably seen the biggest shake-up is on the wing, with a couple of potential debutants preferred to more household names.
Ollie Hassell-Collins and Cadan Murley have both been named in previous training squads but could be given a chance to make their mark this time round, with Jack Nowell, Jonny May and Joe Cokanasiga all left out.
🌹 𝗛𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗲𝗹𝗹-𝗖𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗶𝗻𝘀 𝗻𝗮𝗺𝗲𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝗘𝗻𝗴𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗦𝗶𝘅 𝗡𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗶𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗰𝗮𝗺𝗽 𝘀𝗾𝘂𝗮𝗱
Academy graduate @OHassellcollins has been named in England’s training squad for the 2023 Six Nations.
— London Irish (@londonirish) January 16, 2023
Speedster Hassell-Collins needs just two more tries to equal his previous best tally for a single campaign, while the powerful Murley is second for metres made in the English top flight and delivered another impressive display with a double in Harlequins’ narrow Heineken Champions Cup defeat to Racing 92.
With 21-year-old Tommy Freeman also in the mix and Freddie Steward, 22, likely to continue at full-back, England could line up with a very fresh-faced back three come the much-anticipated Calcutta Cup clash.
And there could well be an unfamiliar name in the centres too, with Dan Kelly hoping to add to his one cap to date having been given the nod ahead of Ollie Lawrence.