If any one of the 23 who played for England on Saturday in their 20-9 loss to Wales thought they were guaranteed to be one of the names Steve Borthwick lists in his Rugby World Cup squad tomorrow morning, they might want to think again.
What unfolded under the roof of the Principality Stadium in Cardiff this weekend was nothing short of embarrassing for Borthwick and his England project.
No try scored for the first time in over a year, unable to add to their half-time tally, firing shots at the opposition that ended up only in their own feet; it was dire.
It was billed by some as a selection showdown with a number of players looking to play themselves into the 33-man squad Borthwick names tomorrow morning.
Instead a number of starters played themselves out of the squad. Or so you’d assume.
There’s little point in second guessing Borthwick and who he may or may not include, but there’s purpose in unpicking what happened on Saturday – though reports suggest Henry Slade will not be included.
Smith selection for England
Since the maverick Marcus Smith was given a shot for England under former coach Eddie Jones – who will be licking his lips at the prospect of his former employer flopping at the coming Rugby World Cup – fans and ex-players alike have been calling for the Harlequins No10 to be picked alongside his fellow south London club men.
Well that happened on Saturday, and it did not work.
Smith got his Harlequins No8, scrum-half and outside centre in Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care and Joe Marchant but, combined with Leicester’s Guy Porter at No12, couldn’t run the game, order his pack or have an impact on the game.
He scored all of England’s points but dampened the calls for this combination to be one for the long-term.
And it’s understandable why Borthwick felt the need to call upon it, he’s not been in the job long and he needs those club combinations to transition to the international side.
Which begs the question as to why the former Leicester coach and the Rugby Football Union have decided to name their squad tomorrow.
New Zealand and Argentina release their squads today, too, but they’ve had years with their coach and a number of international Tests in the last couple of weeks to see where they are at.
England have had eight weeks training – despite a number of starters on Saturday looking unfit – and just one match.
All Borthwick is doing by releasing his squad tomorrow is sending those he ditches on holiday, risking their fitness going forward, and showing every other nation at the World Cup exactly what kind of squad he is taking and what sort of style they’re building towards across the next three warm-up games.
Wales, for example, tried a lot of fringe players on Saturday but have another two games before they name their squad and can try other combinations.
It baffles the brain as to why England are shooting so early.
And the reality is this: England did not impress too much in the Six Nations, there was no attacking flair or adventure in February and there remains little now, and they didn’t impress at the weekend.
So with their squad confirmed tomorrow, they’ve got to show something against Wales next week, and Ireland and Fiji beyond that, that suggests they can compete at the World Cup in September.
Because on form alone, England could be on course to dump themselves out of the World Cup in the group stages. Would the sacked former coach, and 2019 World Cup finalist, Jones have had the same result if England had stuck with him for one more year? We will never know.