Was it time to move on? Do England need a spark and a change of direction at this World Cup?

Harlequins' Cadan Murley has consistently been one of the deadliest finishers in the Premiership
©Credit Getty images for Harlequins. By Steve Bardens

In the press release which confirmed England's squad for the Rugby World Cup, it highlighted the fact that the 33 players selected had more than 1,400 international appearances between them.

People will argue experience is vital heading into any major tournament but perhaps the lack of exciting and 'x-factor' players is leaving England supporters less than enthused.

TRU contributor Ben King selects five players he would've liked to see board the plane to France.

Henry Slade

The most notable absentee of course was Henry Slade, who has been capped 56 times for his country, and featured in the last two World Cup squads. The outside centre had started four out of the six games in Steve Borthwick’s reign and has played in 30 of the last 37 Tests since the 2019 RWC.

Slade offers the England midfield both experience and stability, alongside his ability as a left-footed kicking option. Joe Marchant’s inclusion suggests Borthwick is prioritising versatility, with the former Harlequins man finishing last weekend’s game against Wales on the wing. However, having been an ever-present member of England’s side in this whole World Cup cycle, Slade can feel aggrieved at having been left out. 

Alex Dombrandt

Alex Dombrandt has been a staple of Borthwick’s time in charge of England and is often the first name on the team sheet. The number 8 has started every game under Borthwick so far but a dip in form since the beginning of the year means the Harlequins man isn't in possession of a place on the plane.

Billy Vunipola, who recently underwent a minor knee procedure, is the only specialist 8 in the squad, making Dombrandt’s omission not only surprising but risky too.

The former Cardiff Met man is an extremely dynamic option and his 10 tries last season show he knows where the white line is. His chemistry at Quins with Marcus Smith and Danny Care, who are both in the squad, led his club to a Premiership title in 2021, so it is surprising Borthwick doesn’t want to test these combinations a little bit more on the international stage.

Perhaps a thought for Tom Pearson, too. Last weekend, the Northampton Saints forward only had a small window of opportunity to impress in Cardiff but he may well be called upon if injuries strike.

Alex Mitchell

Whilst his absence may not be as notable as the previous two, there can be a strong case for Alex Mitchell to be on the plane to France. He plays with a tempo unmatched by many 9s around the world, and his speed adds something different to England’s options at scrum-half.

Mitchell was at the forefront of Northampton Saints’ blistering attack last season, in a campaign that saw them score the most tries in the Premiership, make the most metres and the most clean breaks.

The 26-year-old’s form for his club in the past couple of seasons has been electric, and he definitely deserves to add to his five international caps.

Raffi Quirke (Sale Sharks) and Harry Randall (Bristol Bears) may also have offered more of a spark to Borthwick's scrum-half contingent. 

Cadan Murley

Despite having zero England appearances to his name, Cadan Murley’s impressive domestic performances as of late may leave him feeling disappointed not to make the final 33. The winger has been exceptional in a Harlequins shirt, and his prolific finishing put his name forward for selection and secured him a spot in Borthwick’s original training squad. 

Although Murley was the Premiership’s top try scorer last season and finished second in this department in the campaign before, he has still not been picked in an England matchday 23. The 24-year-old must wonder what more he must do to earn an international cap while the pace of Newcastle Falcons flyer Adam Radwan could also have been an option.

Zach Mercer

After being dropped from England’s training squad at the end of June, it was clear that Mercer was not in Borthwick’s World Cup plans. The number 8 took the Top 14 by storm before signing with Gloucester ahead of the upcoming season, in the hope of being picked to go to France.

Mercer was imperious throughout his spell at Montpellier, guiding them to a league title in his maiden season whilst also winning Top 14 Player of the Year. His ability to make metres and beat defenders alongside his immense work rate adds a serious sense of dynamism to any pack he features in.

The Number 8 recently broke his silence on his omission, revealing Borthwick ‘wanted to go down a different route’ with his squad, but it's hard not to feel the World Cup - and perhaps England themselves - would be better off with a superstar such as Mercer featuring in it.