Manu Tuilagi left out, Joe Marchant to be recalled in England team to play Scotland
England veteran Manu Tuilagi is to be left out of Steve Borthwick’s first squad to face Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday, with Joe Marchant in line for a recall.
Marchant will join Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell in midfield, with Ollie Lawrence and Anthony Watson, two late call-ups, providing cover from the bench.
The move reinforces Borthwick’s preference for mobility over heft, which has been apparent throughout the build-up to the Six Nations in selection calls such as Billy Vunipola’s omission.
Given England have appeared reliant on Tuilagi for so long, the selection also represents a robust announcement of a new era. The centre had started three of England’s four autumn Tests with Smith and Farrell.
Ollie Hassell-Collins is poised for a Test debut on the left wing, with Max Malins and Freddie Steward completing the back three. The latter two dovetailed for most of the 2022 Six Nations until Malins was dropped for the trip to France. Watson won the last of his 51 England caps against Ireland two years ago.
Elsewhere, Jack van Poortvliet has held onto the No 9 shirt, with Leicester Tigers colleague Ben Youngs among the replacements. Kyle Sinckler is expected to be confirmed as the starting tighthead prop, with Dan Cole’s remarkable return likely to come from the bench.
Alex Dombrandt continues the Harlequins accent at No 8, either side of Lewis Ludlam and Ben Curry in a back row that will be covered by Ben Earl. Ollie Chessum partners Maro Itoje at lock. Jamie George and Jack Walker are the two hookers in the match-day 23.
A midfield of Smith, Farrell and Marchant has been seen once before, in the first Test against Australia last summer. Marchant, who will join Stade Français next season, was unceremoniously axed after that defeat in Perth and did not appear during Eddie Jones’s final autumn in charge. He had been outstanding against both Ireland and France at the end of last year’s Six Nations.
His recall, in harness with Smith, could help England to implement the methods of Nick Evans, the attack coach who is with Borthwick on secondment from Harlequins.
Lawrence, who joined the squad upon the withdrawal of Elliot Daly, has been in exceptional form for Bath. The 23-year-old, an age-grade team-mate of Smith, covers both centre positions and would be winning a first cap since July 2021 when England beat the United States at Twickenham.
On Tuesday evening, England announced that a squad of 29 would stay at Pennyhill Park to prepare for the Calcutta Cup. In that group were Farrell, Marcus and Fin Smith, Marchant, Lawrence and Tuilagi.
Borthwick’s new defence coach Kevin Sinfield declared himself “delighted” with England’s backline options in spite of injuries to Daly, Henry Slade and Dan Kelly. “Sometimes the sum of the parts is greater than the whole,” Sinfield said. “In getting those right combinations, there are some players on our side who enable players to go from a seven out of 10 to an eight out of 10 just by being there.”
Slade, who picked up a hip injury in Exeter Chiefs’ recent Champions Cup win over Castres, stayed with the squad over the early part of this week. Sinfield was hopeful that the playmaker would feature as soon as the round two game against Italy, but Marchant would seem to have been given the first shot.
Ellis Genge revealed that Borthwick had addressed the group, leaning on his experiences as a player, upon announcing the team to face Scotland.
“Obviously when [Borthwick] was captain for England, it probably didn’t end the way he wanted it to end,” Genge said of the England head coach, who won his 57th and final cap against Scotland, as captain, in 2010 before being dropped.
“He spoke really well in the meeting. It was that time of the week when people who aren’t playing at the weekend go home.
“When you hear a coach who has been in that role, numerous times, and ended up captain and then having it taken away from him, you know he really understands. I think his delivery amongst that with the boys, they certainly really appreciate the way he does it. That’s an example of the way he has developed his character, and the way he speaks to people.”
On the eve of another Six Nations, as England attempt to improve a record of one win in their past five matches against Scotland, the England vice-captain said: “The Six Nations has definitely got a different feel to it. I appreciate that more as I’ve got older. I feel like when you’re younger you are always searching for your next cap, you don’t know when it’s going to come, there’s no certainty.
“I’m not saying I’m a bolt-on starter now. But once you’ve played in a few competitions, in the autumns, World Cup warm-up games and all these other Test matches, you understand how special the Six Nations is.
“The feel of the stadium, going away to Ireland, and playing at the French stadium last year, it really hit home how impressive the competition is. I think it’s something we need to look after.”
England team to face Scotland (possible)
F Steward; M Malins, J Marchant, O Farrell, O Hassell-Collins; M Smith, J van Poortvliet; E Genge, J George, K Sinckler, M Itoje, O Chessum, L Ludlam, B Curry, A Dombrandt.
Replacements: J Walker, M Vunipola, D Cole, N Isiekwe, B Earl, B Youngs, O Lawrence, A Watson.