And there we have it, England’s squad for next month’s Rugby World Cup in France. It has been named much earlier than any other northern hemisphere nation but it’s done and dusted, and it’s on head coach Steve Borthwick and England to make it work across the channel.
It is a mixed squad; experience against youth, shock inclusions versus shock exclusions and depth in some positions in contrast to lighter options elsewhere. So it really does have it all. But can it win a World Cup? Well, only time will tell. So here are three takeaways from Borthwick’s 33-man squad.
Major England outs
When news filtered through on Sunday evening that England centre and 50-cap back Henry Slade was set to be dropped by Borthwick, reaction was mixed. Some thought it was a huge omission for England while others weren’t too bothered by the loss.
But what it shows is that Borthwick is making major moves this far out, and Slade isn’t alone.
Veteran winger Jonny May did not make it into the 33-man squad, while Alex Dombrandt – who had started every match under Borthwick in 2023 – was also dropped.
The head coach, then, isn’t entirely about sticking to his usual suspects and that suggests he could spring a few selection surprises during the World Cup next month.
At just 20 years of age, Racing 92 winger Henry Arundell is an exciting inclusion for Borthwick and England.
He made his name in Toulon, scoring an end-to-end try for London Irish in the Challenge Cup before scoring for England with his first touch of the ball on the 2022 summer tour to Australia.
He is electric and exciting, and is a little bit of an unknown to the opposition. But he is not alone; Theo Dan, Saracens hooker, and Freddie Steward are among other youthful inclusions.
Youngsters are often fearless weapons in World Cups, but they also need managing – they simply cannot go out on to any pitch and be expected to make the difference. Man management will be key.
This squad is lacking a little bit of zip and pizzazz. Naming Billy Vunipola – who is recovering from surgery – as the only specialist No8 is risky and the inclusion of an exciting ball carrier such as Zach Mercer could have offered England a point of difference.
Likewise, the inclusion of turnover merchant Val Rapava-Ruskin or sniping No9 Alex Mitchell would have given the squad some layers.
Instead they look predictable and one dimensional. Borthwick said this week that he named the squad as early as he did to provide clarity, but he has picked players as the sole representatives in their positions who are just out of surgery. It baffles the mind.
So what can this England side do? Well they have three warm-up games this month – against Wales,
Ireland and Fiji – to remain fit before they head across the channel for the main event.
Then they take on Argentina in a huge clash in Marseille – where many are placing their chips on Los Pumas – before matches against Japan, Chile and Samoa.
Should England finish in the top two of Pool D and make it to the quarter-finals, they’re set to play one of Georgia, Australia, Wales, Fiji or Portugal.
So in what is a squad demonstrating mixed ability and a lack of outward ambition, it will be interesting to see what on Earth Borthwick and England can do in France next month.
It is not a squad to strike fear into any opposition side, but it is one which could – like in 2019 when Eddie Jones led England to the World cup final – go on a run towards glory.