England’s 71-0 rout of Chile on Saturday was predictable but nonetheless a big confidence booster to the squad. Henry Arundell and Marcus Smith in particular made the most of their opportunities.
With respect to Chile; who never stopped trying, they were never going to match England’s power. Sterner tests await for England but it would have boosted all England fans to see the backline working space and scoring tries. Over the next two weeks, Borthwick will be mulling over his preferred starting XV for their final pool game against Manu Samoa.
Arundell and Smith will surely boost Steve Borthwick’s attacking options although, he may likely to stick with his Argentinian squad selection writes Charlie Inglefield.
Henry Arundell and Marcus Smith boost Borthwick’s England attacking options
Most England fans would have bitten your hand off to see England top of their pool with one try conceded if you asked them a month ago. There is a healthy dose of reality to consider. England is in the easiest pool and with all due respect to Chile were never going to stay with England. The performance against Chile was beneficial to the England management for two reasons. Firstly they did not concede a try – for the second match in a row. Secondly, they scored 11 tries, some of them beauties.
From where England were after the Fijian defeat four weeks ago, they have bounced back with three successive victories. They are baby steps but steps forward nonetheless. Arundell and Smith will boost Borthwick’s attacking options but will the England coach pick them against Samoa? The answer will depend on whether England goes for their strongest XV in that final pool game, to build cohesion before the quarter-finals.
Then there is the age-old selection conundrum of whether George Ford and Owen Farrell start together.
Ford should start, Farrell off the bench v Manu Samoa
George Ford has done everything asked of him in the first two pool matches. It hasn’t been pretty but that is not Ford’s fault – he has been given the task of lifting England out of a crisis and Ford has answered the call with aplomb. England’s attack was noticeably sharper when Ford came on in the second half against Chile. Yes, Chile’s defence was tiring but Smith in particular came into the game and England made huge yardage with Ford directing operations.
There have been so many discussions over the years of whether Farrell and Ford can gel as two starting play-makers. By and large, it has not worked. They are both ‘alpha males’ who want to lead the team from the number ten jumper. On current Ford has earned the right to start at fly-half with two specialist centres outside him. For all of Farrell’s many qualities, he does not have the pace or the power to play centre anymore. Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant provide that blend of power and incision to complement Ford’s game management and kicking game. Borthwick will likely put Ford and Farrell both in against Samoa, to see how they partner up yet again, prior to the knockout phase of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Arundell and Smith boost Borthwick’s England attacking options
Elliot Daly and Jonny May are probably two other selections that Borthwick has to make a call on. They are both great servants to English rugby but they have struggled to be consistent in this tournament. Daly was in his preferred position at outside centre against Chile but did not make the most of his opportunity. For a player of Daly’s talent he has not been firing off the boot or with the ball in hand.
Jonny May looks short of confidence at the moment and has probably last a yard of pace with the injuries he has had to go through since the 2019 World Cup. At his best, May is a lethal runner, capable of scoring against the best in the world. His two try cameo against France in defeat during the 2o20 Six Nations was one of his finest moments. Arundell may be more of a risk with his positional and defensive plays but in terms of x-factor he has the potential to be one of the best in the world. It is the age-old adage that in the latter stages of a World Cup, teams may only get one or two chances to score tries. England have to have Arundell either starting or on the bench.
Freddie Steward is probably the best full-back in the world under the high ball. He is also improving with his attacking lines. Smith’s feet and visions are giving England such a lift in attack. A purist like Borthwick will likely stick with Steward at full-back. Others would suggest having Steward and Arundell on the wing and Marcus Smith at full-back. On the latter, this would mean that an aerial bombardment can still be effectively dealt with given how these back three could swap positions. Again it is unlikely – we expect to see Borthwick stick with Steward, May and Daly as his back three.
To beat the big guns, England needs to ‘take a risk’
If England are a chance to beat the big guns then relying on a kicking-for-territory game is not going to be enough. Borthwick if his previous coaching form is to go by will fall back on a conservative approach to progress. Despite England’s improvement in this World Cup campaign their kicking game has been excessive and predictable. This will eventually work against supposed ‘weaker’ opponents but the top sides will gobble up free possession and make it work in their favour.
Players like Arundell and Smith provide England with genuine attacking options. They both have that rare skill set of creating and identifying space. Smith was constantly close to the ball against Chile and found space and try scoring opportunities as a result. Arundell has pace to burn and can score spectacular tries. There will be limited try-scoring opportunities in the knockout stages and Borthwick must not discount them.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 23, 2023
Arundell and Smith will boost Borthwick’s attacking options if they are given a chance. Hopefully, fans will see them both in tandem against Manu Samoa, after England enjoy a Bye weekend.
England v Samoa – Pool D match, Sunday October 8. Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
“Main photo credit England Rugby facebook“