Selection conundrums for Borthwick ahead of opener

Steve Borthwick made it clear that he will not be making any excuses when it comes to leading this England side, but that does not mean that he is not facing some selection headaches.

Steve Borthwick made it clear that he will not be making any excuses when it comes to leading this England side, but that does not mean that he is not facing some selection headaches.

There are three main spots where the injuries are stacking up, with Borthwick having to come up with solutions at hooker, in the back row and in the midfield.

You will not hear Borthwick complaining about those injuries, it is not his style.

He said: “The time is what it is and I’m not going to be a coach who sits here and starts talking about time or injuries or availability.”

That does not change the fact that Borthwick has some big calls to make to replace his injured troops.


Luke Cowan-Dickie has been ruled out of the entire Guinness Six Nations with an ankle injury, while

Jamie George is currently going through the return to play protocols after going off with a head injury for club side Saracens, and is a doubt for the opening game against Scotland.

Deprived of those two experienced campaigners, Premiership standout George McGuigan seemed a strong candidate to earn a first cap, before he too went down.

That means that unless George returns, which is still very possible, England will go into the Calcutta Cup with either the uncapped Jack Walker or one of Tom Dunn or Jamie Blamire, who have ten caps and one Test start between them, in the No.2 jersey.

With Ellis Genge at loosehead and likely Kyle Sinckler at tighthead, not to mention Maro Itoje calling the lineouts, it is far from the worst situation for a new hooker. But it is still a tough environment to throw in a Test rookie against a Scotland team looking to make it three in a row against the Auld Enemy for the first time in half a century.


While there is a clearly defined top two in England’s hooking stocks, Borthwick’s options in the back row are rather more varied.

Even without Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry, both British & Irish Lions Test starters in 2021, Borthwick has a wealth of options on which to call.

Can Ben Curry serve as a like-for-like replacement for his twin brother? While he is a little lighter than his twin and they have slightly differing games, Ben Curry would still be the closest equivalent Borthwick could field.

Perhaps this is finally the time for Jack Willis to shine. As a jackal, there are few who can match his impact in the European game, and he showed what he can do again on Sunday for club side Toulouse after departing to play in the Top 14 at the weekend.

And then what of Ben Earl? Out of favour at the end of Eddie Jones’ reign, Earl was sensational for Saracens week in, week out, on the way to being named Player of the Season, and in terms of continuous impact through a game, he may be the most influential option of the lot.

Borthwick could also look to a hybrid lock/back-row, with his former Leicester Tigers charge Ollie Chessum or Saracens’ Nick Isiekwe, two men with plenty of experience in both positions.

At No.8, Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds look to be in a straight shootout to start, in one spot where the new England boss has a full pack from which to choose.


The most intriguing decision of all for Borthwick may come in the midfield, where the equation has been constantly evolving.

We know that Owen Farrell will start in either the No.10 or No.12 jersey, and that call will have a large bearing on the rest of the backline.

Up until last week, there seemed a reasonable chance of a return to the three-quarter line that excelled against Australia in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final, with Farrell at fly-half and Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade in the centres.

Slade’s injury, which followed Elliot Daly’s withdrawal from the squad, throws a spanner into the works. Will Borthwick now turn back to Marcus Smith at fly-half and try to find the solution to the Smith/Farrell axis, which did not quite click in 2022?

Leicester centre Dan Kelly was the glue of their title-winning side last year, but is the latest player to go down.

That leaves Ollie Lawrence and Joe Marchant as the other centres in the squad, as well as Guy Porter, who has come in for Kelly.

Lawrence and Marchant are very different types of player, but both could slot in nicely alongside Tuilagi, or even outside Smith and Farrell, while Porter did so in Australia last summer.

Jones had even considered shifting Tommy Freeman into the centres in the latter part of his tenure, it would be a bold move from Borthwick to try the same.

We know there will be no excuses, but there may well be some surprises when Borthwick names his first team on Thursday.