Predicting England's starting XV - England vs Scotland 2023 Guinness Six Nations

Owen Farrell looks likely to captain England against Scotland from inside centre
©David Howlett

Prior to England announcing their first matchday 23 to take on Scotland in the opening round of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, TRU’s Joe Harvey has predicted who Steve Borthwick will name in his starting XV. 

Tomorrow afternoon n there is set to be plenty of interest as the first England squad of Steve Borthwick’s time as head coach is announced. 

Follow Talking Rugby Union to get some of the latest England news across the Six Nations and beyond.

1. Ellis Genge (VC), Bristol Bears (43 caps)

When Ellis Genge was named as a vice-captain by Steve Borthwick in January it was clear that the 27-year-old would be an integral part of England’s plans under their new head coach.

Captaining Leicester Tigers under Borthwick last season, the prop lifting the Gallagher Premiership at Twickenham Stadium last June before moving back to Bristol to play for Pat Lam’s Bears.

Now 27, Genge is very much in the prime of his career and was a steady performer for England during the Autumn Nations Series and will look to establish himself as a starter even further with his well-rounded game.

2. Jack Walker, Harlequins (Uncapped)

With the doubts over Jamie George’s return from concussion, it seems to make sense that Harlequins’ Jack Walker should get a starting role this Saturday and make his England debut in the process.

Impressing massively since moving to West London from Bath in 2021, Walker has proven himself to be a dependable and consistent performer for Tabai Matson.

While three-cap Tom Dunn is in the squad, it stands to reason that Walker has a more long-term future in the England squad, and with that in mind has to start if George is unable to play from the off.

3. Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers (95 caps)

It is almost inconceivable to think that Dan Cole’s recall to the England will not end with the 35-year-old starting in the Calcutta Cup. 

One of the most dependable tighthead props in the Premiership, like his former club teammate Genge, Cole was a heavily relied upon by Borthwick and will be looking to repay the faith of his coach by doing what he does best.

“As a prop forward, it was mystifying to me, and I can see that Eddie was trying to build for the future with the World Cup coming up,” Jason Leonard told TRU

“But Dan has been one of the best tightheads in the Premiership, for definitely the last two or three years and he hasn’t been seen at international level since the final in 2019. 

“You play your best players, and to see him back because he has been one of the best players, I think is fantastic, it is good for the team to have someone of his experience back in the environment.”

4. Maro Itoje, Saracens (62 caps)

A near constant since making his England debut in 2016, Maro Itoje has been one his country’s most important players, and this will not change under new management.

Now England’s lineout caller, Itoje’s role within the England team goes beyond simply playing and will be one of the leaders among the pack as they move forward towards the Rugby World Cup in France.

Much like the team’s captain and vice-captain, when fit the 28-year-old is one of the first names on the team sheet and will continue to be so in the immediate future at least.

5. Ollie Chessum, Leicester Tigers (5 caps)

When Ollie Chessum spoke to TRU in early January, the 22-year-old spoke about how his time spent injured earlier this season allowed him to put some more weight on. 

Conversations with his former Leicester Tigers coach Borthwick made it clear that his immediate future was at lock forward and it stands to reason the future is now.

Gaining his only England start to date in the second-row, the forward from Lincolnshire may well now get a chance to call a starting jersey his own and establish himself moving forward.

6. Lewis Ludlam, Northampton Saints (14 caps)

A rarely used commodity under Eddie Jones, Lewis Ludlam offers a versatile and no-frills option for Borthwick as he moulds this England side.

Predominantly having played at openside flanker and No. 8 for Phil Dowson at Northampton Saints, the 27-year-old has regained some of the form that saw him picked for the 2019 World Cup.

It is not hard to see why Borthwick would admire Ludlam; he is no nonsense, will execute his role to the best possible standard and is an established leader in the Premiership.

7. Ben Curry, Sale Sharks (1 cap)

When picked by Borthwick for the Six Nations, the 43-year-old maintained that Ben Curry was always in his plans and the selection had little to do with the hamstring injury sustained by twin brother, Tom.

Already this week reports have emerged that Curry has been training alongside Ludlam and Alex Dombrandt, the flanker having impressed for Sale Sharks across this season and now looking to add to his solitary England cap.

Beating out Ben Earl and Jack Willis for a starting spot, the 24-year-old will be looking to make up for lost time after first being names in an England squad back in 2017 before injury struck and his brother earned the first of 45 caps.

8. Alex Dombrandt, Harlequins (9 caps)

Sitting out the entirety of the Autumn Nations Series, Alex Dombrandt’s performances for his club side have been beyond consistent and with Billy Vunipola omitted from the England squad, the25-year-old certainly has an opportunity.

A dynamic and potentially game-changing player, it has been injuries which have largely kept Dombrandt out of contention, the back-row not having turned out for England since last years’ Six Nations. 

Having been able to establish some consistency after a spell out with injury, it seems as though the stage is well and truly set for the former Cardiff Met star to become ever-present under Borthwick.

9. Jack van Poortvliet, Leicester Tigers (7 caps)

It would probably be fair to say that Jack van Poortvliet experienced mixed fortunes across the Autumn Nations Series, although ex-England head coach Eddie Jones stuck with the 21-year-old.

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Racking up appearances for Borthwick with Leicester Tigers, there is a sense that the youngster from Norfolk is England’s future at scrum-half and with the ability to have the vastly experienced Ben Youngs on the bench, why not roll with Van Poortvliet?

10. Marcus Smith, Harlequins (17 caps)

When it comes to Marcus Smith’s inclusion at fly-half, it cannot be avoided that if it were not for the thigh injury of Dan Kelly, the Harlequins poster boy would likely have a supporting role.

Shifting Owen Farrell back out to inside centre and restoring Smith to a starting role, it offers a form of consistency to any side which takes to the field after their disappointing autumn.

That combined with a familiarity with club coach Nick Evans, who is England’s attack coach on a short-term basis, Smith could even further his case for future selection with a good outing.

11. Ollie Hassell-Collins, London Irish (Uncapped)

It was strongly rumoured that London Irish’s Ollie Hassell-Collins was all set to sign on with Leicester Tigers, with Borthwick a big fan of the 24-year-old.

That appreciation for the wing is seemingly shared by Sinfield, who has admired Hassell-Collins’s work in defence, adding up to the notion that the Exile will make his England debut on Saturday afternoon.

A real threat in every sense of the word, Hassell-Collins will ask questions of defenders, has a more than capable left boot and can truly be the missing piece to England’s attack.

12. Owen Farrell (C), Saracens (101 caps)

England’s captain, Owen Farrell, was always going to find himself in the first XV of Borthwick’s tenure as the head coach.

Referred to as a fly-half since England’s Six Nations squad was announced, with Dan Kelly injured it will likely make more sense for Farrell to line up at inside centre and maintain some of the consistency that the 31-year-old had formed with Smith.

While this may not be England’s plan long-term, Farrell will acquit himself well against Scotland and get the ball rolling on a new era for the side before injured players return to the fray.

13. Joe Marchant, Harlequins (13 caps)

From the moment that Joe Marchant’s move to Stade Francais at the end of this season was confirmed, it has been as though a weight was lifted from the back’s shoulders.

With Borthwick reportedly on the hunt to field an agile team, Marchant certainly fits that bill tenfold and is a trusted lieutenant of attack coach, Nick Evans, at Harlequins.

Particularly as Marcus Smith looks likely to orchestrate the attack from fly-half, the inclusion of a clubmate could help England hit the ground running in the Calcutta Cup this weekend.

14. Tommy Freeman, Northampton Saints (3 caps)

Last November, Tommy Freeman’s only outing in the end-of-year-internationals saw him substituted at the break, with just 40 minutes of rugby coming the 21-year-old’s way.

That came as a real surprise for a player that had started in England’s two Test wins over Australia just several months prior and seriously impressing in the process.

A talented footballer, Freeman has registered seven tries so far this season for Northampton Saints and given time, should establish himself as a regular for England.

15. Freddie Steward, Leicester Tigers (17 caps)

Freddie Steward is another one of those players whose involvement for England provides very little debate.

Since making his debut in 2021, the 22-year old has shone in international rugby in much the same way he has for Leicester Tigers since becoming a regular with the club side in 2020.

Tall, athletic and with a real cutting edge which sets him apart from any other English full-back, Steward will no doubt be a mainstay. 


16. Jamie George, Saracens (72 caps) 17. Mako Vunipola, Saracens (74 caps) 18. Kyle Sinckler, Bristol Bears (56 caps) 19. Nick Isiekwe, Saracens (8 caps) 20. Ben Earl, Saracens (13 caps) 21. Ben Youngs, Leicester Tigers (121 caps) 22. Ollie Lawrence, Bath Rugby (7 caps) 23. Max Malins, Saracens (14 caps)