Who has played their way into contention for a place in England's World Cup squad?

Joe Carpenter's fine season at Sale could see him challenge for a place on the plane to France
©Sale Sharks

Such is the way with the sporting world that as soon as one event is over, attention immediately turns to the next huge talking point.

We are only several days on from the conclusion of the Gallagher Premiership season where Owen Farrell lifted the trophy for a deserved Saracens side but now the focus has firmly switched to who in that final, as well as over the rest of the season, made a compelling case to Steve Borthwick to be selected in his wider World Cup squad.

With the training squad set to be named this month, here are six players, by position, who have played their way into contention.

Front row – Theo Dan

Now, it is quick as Dan has only played for Saracens' first team for a season. However, he has massively impressed in that time. His core skills are good; lineout throwing, handling and he is an underrated tackler.

His speed and passing is impressive for someone who has a relative lack of experience. His performance in the Premiership final was mature - not faultless - but he looked comfortable under that pressure.

The reason that Dan has a shot at being the third hooker in the squad is that the options are bare. Luke Cowan-Dickie is unlikely to be fit, Nic Dolly has only just returned from a year out and other hookers have either struggled with injury or failed to kick on. One of those two could be selected ahead of Dan if they can prove their fitness, but neither is in better form than the young Saracen.

Second row - George Martin

A man finally getting the recognition that his talent deserves. After an above-average start to this season in the back row, an inspired switch to the second row saw Martin really shine. Who knows if it will be his final position, but still at the tender age of 21, he has to make either position his own.

Martin’s superstrength is his aggression, in both the tackle and carry. His tackling has always been superb, with perhaps the best technique in the division, proving that you don’t have to hit high to smash someone back. This impressed Eddie Jones sufficiently to warrant him his maiden (and only) Test cap, against Ireland in March 2021. His game has come on leaps and bounds since particularly in the lineout and in the carry.

Maybe this World Cup will come too soon for him to start, but make no mistake, it will be a shock if Martin is not one of those Borthwick builds his side around after this tournament.

Back row - Ben Earl

It seems almost miraculous that Ben Earl still hasn’t started a Test match for England, having played 15 matches for his country.

It seemed to be a clash of styles of backrower that Eddie Jones was wanting, but now after five games of the Steve Borthwick era, Earl still only has 53 minutes of substitute appearances to his name.

He should surely be a certainty on the plane to France, but with competition from the likes of Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Tom and Jack Willis, Billy Vunipola, Alex Dombrandt and Lewis Ludlam, as well as the likes of Ollie Chessum and Courtney Lawes, it is conceivable that he does not head to the World Cup.

It has been another stellar season for the flanker, demonstrating that he has incredible range to his game as Saracens’ style has changed, with him remaining critical. His jackalling, tackling and work rate are all as good as ever, but his handling and running lines still seem to be improving – and he’s still only 25.

Half-backs - Danny Care

Wildcard shout? Maybe. But it’s hard to argue that Danny Care is not in the top three English scrum-halves still out there at the tender age of 36.

It is expected that England will take Jack van Poortvliet, Alex Mitchell and one other to France. Maybe Sale's Raffi Quirke but perhaps Care is the best third option, offering a mix of two styles. He can create and hold the game speed that Mitchell offers, as well as offering kicking comparable to van Poortvliet.

His form has hardly dropped off, too. He consistently creates magic for those outside him, with Marcus Smith perhaps stealing some of Care’s limelight. With England attempting to create space by using big runners in all channels and then switching play quickly, Care’s speed and cross-kicking could come in handy.

Centre - Dan Kelly

Poor Dan Kelly. After an incredible breakout campaign last season, he tore his hamstring in the Tigers’ Premiership semi-final, meaning he missed a certain spot on the tour to Australia last summer and was also absent in the Autumn.

It appeared his luck had changed, with a return to form and the appointment of Borthwick – who appreciates his qualities immensely. However, a thigh injury on the eve of the Six Nations once again set him back.

Kelly only has one appearance for England - earned in July 2021 - but now two years later, he has once again found his best form in Leicester Tigers' ultimately failed late charge towards regaining the Premiership title.

The inside centre doesn’t even turn 22 for another week but has qualities that could improve a still questionable England midfield. His defensive organisation impresses Kevin Sinfield, as well as tough carrying and passing that has vastly improved – see his assist for Harry Potter against Sale Sharks two weeks ago.

Back three - Joe Carpenter

My breakout star of the Gallagher Premiership season. Carpenter looks like he has been at home in the Sale Sharks back three for years.

He is a great foil and back-up to Freddie Steward, with a wide skill set, and the best trait for a young player is he is continually improving at a rate of knots. Carpenter’s strength is that he seems to read the game like a fly-half playing fullback, arriving in the line exactly where his inside man would want him to break the line or clear out. His weakness would be backfield coverage, though, and he may be found out on an international stage.

Perhaps he may not make the squad as a result of the ability of Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly to provide cover in the fullback area, but he should get an opportunity in a warm-up game, nonetheless.