As the club season nears its end and the international games and Rugby World Cup approach, RwcGlobally has selected the England XVs from each country, starting with England. However, the availability of some French and overseas-based players for the World Cup must be considered.
15 Freddie Steward: Despite occasional tackling concerns and a perceived lack of outright speed, Steward’s aerial skills are among the best. Given England’s anticipated tactics at the World Cup, with a significant emphasis on kicking from the halfbacks, Steward’s ability to dominate the air and control space becomes crucial for Steve Borthwick’s game plan. In reserve, England possesses a versatile back three with options like Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, and Max Malins, all of whom have experience at full-back. However, the surprising contender is George Furbank from Northampton Saints, who has had a highly effective season as a key attacking threat. Additionally, Ben Loader from London Irish has impressed as a young player having a breakthrough year.
14 Anthony Watson: Once again, this is a status quo selection, despite the compelling case made by Newcastle Falcons’ speedster Adam Radwan. Watson exudes class in attack, excels in kick-chasing and defense, and his selection aligns with the preferred game plan. England boasts several alternatives in this position, with Malins, Daly, or Radwan offering different approaches. However, the dark horse in this race is James Ramm, an English-qualified Australian flyer who has been outstanding for Northampton and can play in any position across the back three.
Pace and power:
13 Joe Marchant: Among English-qualified midfielders, no one has scored more tries, claimed more high balls, or made more tackles than the Harlequins outside centre. A tremendous athlete who contributes significantly on the gainline and in aerial contests, Marchant’s inconsistent treatment by England is baffling considering his Premiership form. One week he plays at centre, another on the wing, and sometimes he’s dropped completely.
In terms of Premiership performances, Fraser Dingwall from Northampton Saints stands out as a centre offering excellent passing continuity and attacking vision. Despite being part of England’s EPS squads since 2020, he is yet to earn a full cap. Dingwall forms a brilliant attacking partnership at club level with Scotland’s Rory Hutchinson. Luke Northmore, Marchant’s teammate at Harlequins, would also be part of this discussion if he could string together a consistent run of matches without succumbing to injury. As a backup, Elliot Daly’s exceptional passing skills make him a threatening player who deserves a spot in the matchday 23 despite defensive limitations.
12 Ollie Lawrence: Inside centre has been a perennial problem position for England, partly due to the changing fly-half options over the past two years. Lawrence’s form with Bath has been instrumental in transforming the club’s fortunes, and his try in injury time secured their place in the Champions Cup.
Another candidate is Saracen Alex Lozowski, who may benefit from his rapport with our chosen fly-half. Lozowski is a powerful and intelligent player, equally adept at 12 or 13, and his outstanding defensive skills make him deserving of more than his current five caps. His versatility could work in his favor.
Lastly, Manu Tuilagi, although frequently plagued by injuries, remains a player who strikes fear into the hearts of defenses. If fit, he is exceptional, but fitness has been a persistent issue for him in recent years.
11 Cadan Murley: It’s baffling that the exceptional Cadan Murley, who leads the Premiership in try-scoring with 15 tries and possesses outstanding skills in the air and on defense, remains uncapped. Among all the players on our list, Murley’s combination of pace and power presents the most compelling case for inclusion in the national team.
While Max Malins also presents a strong case, the two Ollies, Hassell-Collins and Thorley, have showcased fine form at the domestic level. Additionally, Joe Cokanasiga brings a contrasting element of physicality to any backline he graces.
Farrell over Smith and Ford
10 Owen Farrell: In terms of form, Owen Farrell’s exceptional command of Saracens’ backline throughout the season cannot be overlooked, disregarding his goal-kicking abilities. When he played as fly-half for England, the team displayed structure and coherence.
Marcus Smith offers a diverse range of skills that greatly complement Farrell’s, making the decision between these two outstanding players a challenge for Borthwick. Selecting either of them requires a complete reshuffling of the midfield. Furthermore, George Ford, despite his recent return from injury, provides another highly talented option as a pivot. Borthwick’s choice of fly-half is crucial, but with three exceptional candidates, it depends more on the form and options available in the midfield outside the fly-halves.
9 Alex Mitchell: Mitchell’s spiky, fast, and intelligent style of play is central to Northampton Saints’ attacking prowess. His exceptional speed in recycling rucks elevates the team’s tempo when he dons the England jersey. While his passing may not be the best, and kicking is not his primary strength, he brings vibrancy to any backline he joins.
In addition, Sale’s Gus Warr and Raffi Quirke are both immensely talented scrum-halves. Warr’s service is as good as any in the Premiership, while Quirke’s kicking abilities and outright pace set him apart as potentially the most well-rounded of the three.
8 Zach Mercer: Dominating in the Top 14 is no easy feat, making Mercer’s achievements all the more remarkable. England has long struggled to find a reliable number eight, and Mercer’s combination of carrying ability, wide support play, and lineout expertise makes him a key player for England in the World Cup.
Speaking of English exiles in France, Tom Willis has also caught the attention, bringing physicality and power to the world’s most challenging league. Lastly, Sam Simmonds of Exeter Chiefs continues to impress with his remarkable form. Although he may require taller flanking forwards to compensate for his height in the lineout, England has never truly provided him with the extended opportunity his consistent brilliance deserves.
7 Jack Willis: England’s wealth of options at openside flanker contrasts with their limited choices in other positions, notably at number five or six. However, Willis’ form has surged since joining Toulouse, exhibiting improved accuracy and reduced error count. In the Champions Cup semi-final against Leinster, he was easily the best player on the pitch.
While Willis is the standout performer currently, Tom Pearson may become that player in the future. In fact, we wouldn’t mind seeing either of these flankers start, particularly considering Pearson’s impressive Premiership season. Steve Borthwick should give the Exiles flanker every opportunity to shine in the warm-up Tests.
Of course, all of this assumes that Tom Curry will relinquish the shirt he has long held. However, we find it unlikely, given Curry’s ability to excel at Test level in any back-row position. In a position of strength, it would be remiss not to mention Ben Earl, Ben Curry, and Will Evans, but we believe the battle lies between Willis, Pearson, and Tom Curry.
6 George Martin: If Courtney Lawes is unavailable, England finds themselves lacking options for physical flankers. The rugby landscape has recently shifted, with back-rows such as Marcos Kremer, Charles Ollivon, Scott Barrett, and Anthony Jelonch dominating the gain line in Test matches. Going into a Test match with a mix-and-match flanker combination means conceding breakdown power. Martin, boasting a 94% tackle completion rate, is the ideal player to confront unstoppable force with immovable objects.
Lewis Ludlam certainly didn’t disappoint in his performances for England this season and remains a viable option. Additionally, Ted Hill from Bath deserves consideration in this discussion. However, for us, Martin presents a tremendous opportunity to restore much-needed balance to the England back-row.
5 Ollie Chessum: Chessum’s potential selection for the World Cup still hangs in the balance due to a severe injury suffered in March. Nevertheless, he has earned the right to retain the shirt he performed admirably in during this year’s Six Nations.
Jonny Hill may not be the fans’ favorite, but his physicality is unmatched, consistently making him a contender. Meanwhile, Hugh Tizard has had another exceptional season, this time with Saracens. However, if Joe Launchbury is available for selection, no other player offers the same level of completeness, particularly in terms of maul and breakdown work, as the experienced former Wasps player.
4 David Ribbans: The formidable “Ribeye” may only be available for a limited period, and with Chessum’s absence at the time of writing, he becomes a skillful and versatile option in the engine room. He possesses speed, excellent handling, and proficient offloading skills. We must acknowledge that Maro Itoje will always be in contention, bringing the experience of a two-time Lion and a finalist in the 2019 World Cup.
As a wildcard selection, we propose Freddie Clarke from Gloucester, who has consistently delivered outstanding performances over several seasons. Perhaps it’s time for England to reward his considerable talents.
Best prop in the north
3 Trevor Davison: Ask any loosehead prop in the Premiership about the most troublesome opponents, and former Falcon turned Saint, Davison, will be high on their list. He consistently tackles well, excels in mauls, and while he may not be the fastest on the field, he brings stability to any front row he’s a part of.
Dan Cole is still part of the conversation, but he is not an impact player. It’s either start him or drop him, especially now that Bath’s mobile and formidable Will Stuart has returned from injury. Stuart received undue criticism for a couple of scrum setbacks he encountered while playing for the national team when not fully fit. Kyle Sinckler remains a great option, but his handling and mobility might be best utilized coming off the bench as a finisher.
2 Tom Dunn: He may not be the flashiest hooker, but with his impeccable set-piece skills, exceptional ability in mauls, and sheer toughness, Dunn is the Premiership’s most in-form player. George McGuigan of Gloucester might be lamenting his misfortune of getting injured just when England had a shortage of hookers. McGuigan’s craftiness and handling could provide an impactful option off the bench.
Harlequins boast one of the most formidable front rows in European rugby (just ask the Stormers!), and Jack Walker is a vital part of that solid trio. If try-scoring and excellent support play are what you’re after, Bristol’s Harry Thacker has an impressive track record that should not be overlooked.
1 Val Rapava-Ruskin: Our message here is straightforward; among all our selections, this is the one we’d most like to see happen. Rapava-Ruskin is the finest loosehead prop in the northern hemisphere, offering a comprehensive skill set that includes jackal abilities, strong tackling, excellent offloading, and immense scrummaging power. There are rumors of his difficult demeanor in camp and a strained relationship with the coaches in January, but he is a game-changer, and England cannot afford to ignore his brilliance.
Ellis Genge currently holds the position and is a crucial leader for England, but a combination of Rapava-Ruskin starting with Genge as a finisher presents a formidable proposition akin to a “bomb squad.” In reserve, the diverse styles of Bevan Rodd’s and Beno Obano’s mobility, along with Joe Marler’s set-piece prowess, cover all the bases in a position of immense strength for England. If only they had the same depth at tighthead.