Captaincy, loosehead and the backs - Key points ahead of England's Six Nations squad announcement

Tommy Freeman could be utilised in the centres or on the wing for England
©RFU Collection via Getty Images

With Steve Borthwick set to name his Six Nations squad on Wednesday, what are the key points England must look to do before - and during - these upcoming championships?

First and foremost, they have to build on the positives from the World Cup and they must make themselves harder to beat and stronger in defence. The appointment of Felix Jones - who was part of South Africa’s backroom staff that won the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019 and retained it last November - can help hugely with this.

Then, Borthwick must pick players who are confident and in form as a team filled with confidence is a dangerous one.

There is also something fans seem to have been screaming about for years; England must score more tries! The attack has to start firing and I believe if certain players are picked (as I will get on to) we could really see some exciting stuff.


The biggest announcement over the next few weeks will arguably be around who England’s new captain will be with Courtney Lawes and Owen Farrell stepping away from the international stage.

The frontrunners are Jamie George, George Ford and one of the previous vice-captains Ellis Genge. Even with the Bristol man still possibly an injury doubt for the tournament, his case for the captaincy is in some ways strengthened by the injury to Joe Marler as he is more likely to be a solidified starter.

Not having a nailed-on starting spot could be what rules Ford out of the running, with him currently in tough competition with Marcus Smith for the 10 shirt.

Within all of this ‘new skipper chat’, the most logical pick seems to be the Saracens man, Jamie George. You could say he is perhaps one of the first names on the team sheet and a man with a wealth of experience. Eighty-five England caps and three Lions appearances - along with a plethora of trophies won with Saracens - does speak volumes.

Who to turn to at loosehead?

The biggest selection issue currently for Borthwick is at loosehead due to his options thinning, with Bevan Rodd, Val Rapava-Ruskin, and recently Marler all out injured. Then with Mako Vunipola’s recent international retirement, there seems to be an opening for someone to claim the No.1 jersey as their own during the Six Nations.

The hope is that Genge will be fit, but we could see some new contenders like Ben Obano finally managing to get onto the international stage or the outside possibility of Quins youngster Fin Baxter being in with a shout after some excellent form.

For me though, the real debate comes in the backline especially in the midfield. The centre partnership that England took to the World Cup is currently unavailable with Joe Marchant playing his rugby across the channel in Paris and Manu Tuilagi injured once again.

However, the options are there for Borthwick with Henry Slade in the form of his life following his World Cup omission. Ollie Lawrence has been firing for Bath, Tommy Freeman has impressed in an excellent Northampton side and Elliot Daly, whenever he features at outside centre, is always a quality operator.

Slade would be the favourite for either the 12 or 13 shirt and I believe the man to partner him should be Lawrence. A combination of pace, power, and a lot of skill with Smith pulling the strings at 10.

Slade also gives an option of a second playmaker in the backfield and offers a level of experience.

Which wings will Borthwick pick?

Two other spots which are up for grabs in the starting XV for England are out on the wings. With the retirement of Jonny May and Anthony Watson only just returning from injury, it feels like this is the perfect opportunity to blood new players out wide.

The current man of the moment and the player who could provide the X-factor that England have seemingly lacked of late is Exeter’s Immanuel Feyi-Waboso. Scoring tries, smashing players for fun and tearing defences ragged is something the Chiefs starlet has excelled at in recent weeks.

Is he raw as a player? Yes. Are there areas of his game that may not be complete? Yes, but as I said before, players with confidence can be a dangerous opponent and against Italy in England’s Six Nations opener on February 3rd, it could be the perfect place to launch him into the international stage.

As for other options, Freeman has been imperious for Northampton in the centres but has been brilliant on the wing, especially with a bit of added size. His versatility could improve his chances of being in Borthwick’s plans.

Then there are the two Bath wingers. Joe Cokanasiga - who will be looking to see if he can finally make a mark again internationally, and Will Muir who can’t stop finishing off moves for the in-form Blue, Black and White.

James’ Predicted England XV

1. Ellis Genge
2. Jamie George - Capt
3. Dan Cole
4. Maro Itoje
5. George Martin
6. Ollie Chessum
7. Sam Underhill
8. Ben Earl
9. Alex Mitchell
10. Marcus Smith
11. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
12. Ollie Lawrence
13. Henry Slade
14. Tommy Freeman
15. Freddie Steward