Steve Borthwick confirms England's Rugby World Cup squad with Henry Slade not included

Henry Slade is the surprise omission from England's World Cup squad with Joe Marchant gaining a spot in the centres

Steve Borthwick has confirmed his official 33-man squad for the Rugby World Cup, with centre Henry Slade and back-row Alex Dombrandt missing the cut.

Since 2020, Slade has had the most starts for England at outside centre and the second most at inside centre but Borthwick has seemingly opted for the versatility of Stade Francais' Joe Marchant over the 30-year-old.

Saracens' Theo Dan - who made his debut against Wales in Cardiff last Saturday - has been included as one of three hookers [Jamie George and Jack Walker the other two] ahead of Newcastle's Jamie Blamire while Billy Vunipola is the only specialist No.8 heading to France.

"There have been a number of difficult decisions," Borthwick said. "Quality players will miss out. Henry [Slade] has been tremendous throughout the training camp. He is disappointed but we know there will be changes. There will be bumps and bruises so everyone needs to be ready to go.

"It was a personal conversation and I share my thoughts on the decision-making process. There are good players competing in his position. We were always going to have three players in key positions - that means in other areas of the team you need positional flexibility.

Talking Rugby Union
Talking Rugby Union
Posted Aug 08, 2023
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"Henry and all the players were disappointed. They all worked incredibly hard and were disappointed but each one will be ready to go."

On Vunipola, who will be joined in the back-row department by the likes of Tom Curry, Lewis Ludlam, Ben Earl and Jack Willis, Borthwick added: "Billy's been fantastic in this training camp. It's been an opportunity to work with him and see just how hard he's worked to come back from his injury.

"He looks in great shape [having not played since April following a knee injury]. He looks as fit as I've ever seen him, and his experience will add to this squad."

Along with Dombrandt, who has endured a difficult year on the international stage, Tom Willis and Tom Pearson are the other back-rowers to miss out.

In the second-row, Ollie Chessum and George Martin - who can also operate at blindside flanker - are in the 33-man party ahead of Sale's Jonny Hill.

Owen Farrell will captain England in his third Rugby World Cup with Ellis Genge and Courtney Lawes named as vice captains.

The squad of 33 players – which is made up of 19 forwards and 14 backs – totals over 1,400 England appearances combined, with 17 players having previous Rugby World Cup experience.

Ben Youngs, Dan Cole, and Courtney Lawes will compete in their fourth Rugby World Cup while 20-year-old wing Henry Arundell is the youngest member of the squad.

“Rugby World Cups involve unique challenges in terms of the demands on players, the need for squad flexibility and the limited number of squad places available,” added Borthwick.

“France 2023 is no different, but I am confident we have selected a squad of 33 that is well able to meet those challenges and leave us best placed to be at our most competitive in this exciting tournament.

“There have been a number of very difficult selection decisions to make, given the quality of our wider training squad. Some very good players have missed out on selection such has been the competition for places over the last eight weeks and more of preparation.

As Saturday’s game in Cardiff proved, we have a series of demanding Test matches through August as we continue that preparation towards our opening Rugby World Cup pool game against an in-form Argentina side.

“We believe that announcing the squad a little earlier than otherwise might have been the case, brings a clarity and certainty to the group, allowing the players as much time as possible to settle and develop as a squad."

England face Wales (12 August), Ireland (19 August) and Fiji (26 August) in the Summer Nations Series before the Rugby World Cup starts. 

So what next for England's midfield?

With the omission of Henry Slade, who started in four Six Nations games earlier this year, the midfield conundrum for the World Cup has become even more intriguing for England.

Ollie Lawrence was part of the players' press conference at Twickenham and expressed how 'special' it was for him to be involved in Borthwick's plans so with Slade out, does that open the door even further for the Bath man to claim a starting jersey in France?

Talk of him linking up with Manu Tuilagi in the centres is a mouth-watering prospect while Marchant will also now have a say after impressing against Wales last weekend, but could we see the playmakers that are Owen Farrell or even Elliot Daly come into the conversation? 

Where Farrell will operate at his third World Cup will be an interesting development - and will surely become clearer across the rest of England's warm-up games - while TNT Sports' Austin Healey told TRU last week the Saracens connection between the captain and Daly might be something Borthwick taps into.

Daly and his long-ranged boot may well be utilised in the back three though, where he is joined by Anthony Watson, Freddie Steward, Max Malins and the exciting Henry Arundell.

Borthwick said he wants his squad to be 'flexible' and when it comes to the midfield - and the team in general - the mix of power and versatility is what the England boss now must mould.

England’s official 2023 Rugby World Cup squad

Forwards (19)
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 9 caps)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 100 caps)***
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 45 caps)*
Theo Dan (Saracens, 1 cap)
Ben Earl (Saracens, 15 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 49 caps)*
Jamie George (Saracens, 77 caps)**
Maro Itoje (Saracens, 67 caps)*
Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 97 caps)***
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 20 caps)*
Joe Marler (Harlequins, 79 caps)**
George Martin (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
David Ribbans (Toulon, 6 caps)
Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 3 caps)
Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 62 caps)*
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 26 caps)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 68 caps) **
Jack Walker (Harlequins, 3 caps)
Jack Willis (Toulouse, 10 caps)
Backs (14)
Henry Arundell (Racing 92, 7 caps)
Danny Care (Harlequins, 88 caps)*
Elliot Daly (Saracens, 57 caps)*
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 106 caps)**
George Ford (Sale Sharks, 82 caps)**
Ollie Lawrence (Bath Rugby, 11 caps)
Max Malins (Bristol Bears, 19 caps)
Joe Marchant (Stade Francais, 16 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 22 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 23 caps)
Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 51 caps)**
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 13 caps) 
Anthony Watson (unattached, 55 caps)**
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 122 caps)***

*denotes number of Rugby World Cup tournaments played