Any way you want to break it down, Steve Borthwick has got England rugby believing again. And it is with the potential England Rugby duo of Alex Mitchell and George Martin hinting a more time near to the top of the Test arena.
A semi-final spot which could and should have been a final shoot-out with All Blacks represents progress. The foundations have been laid for England rugby to start challenging for major titles beginning with the 2024 Six Nations. Borthwick has brought through the likes of Alex Mitchell, George Martin, and Ben Earl as potential world-class players. He deserves immense credit for staying true to his intuition whilst everyone else was hammering him (including this author!).
England Rugby duo of Alex Mitchell and George Martin hold a bright future
There is much to work on over the next four years but the players like the England Rugby duo of Mitchell and Martin can get England rugby back to the top again. Charlie Inglefield looks ahead to the 2024 Six Nations and some of Borthwick’s key selection posers.
Is it time for Owen Farrell to step aside?
It remains one of the biggest conundrums around Borthwick’s reign as coach which is what to do with Marcus Smith. Or, conversely what to do with Owen Farrell and George Ford. We can analyse this over and over again because there are obvious pros and cons to these three world-class operators. What Borthwick has to work out first and foremost is whether Farrell and Ford are going to be realistically around in 2027? Another question associated with that is that if they are, will Farrell and Ford be capable of justifying their places in the squad?
We all know what Farrell brings to the team. At his bullish best, the Fijian quarter-final an obvious example, Farrrell is the heartbeat of this England team. Obdurate, fiercely competitive, and pulling the tactical strings to perfection. The tougher the atmosphere, and tougher the opponent, the more Farrell steps up. Herein lies the problem. For England to stand a chance of reaching World Cup finals and contending for Six Nations’ titles the more they have to adopt an attacking game plan. Kicking for territory, squeezing the life out of the opposition, and banging over penalties will work most of the time. But, it won’t take them to titles. The ability to create a genuine try scoring opportunity in the pressure cooker of knock-out rugby and convert that one rare chance has been England’s achilles heel for the last four years. This is where Marcus Smith needs to be given a proper chance to play in the number 10 jumper.
Marcus Smith in at Number 10
Ex-England coach Eddie Jones in town this week for the Barbarians clash with Wales said that Smith was not a full-back. He’s right. Smith did more than an admirable job at the back in France but realistically he is a number 10. In tournaments like the World Cup having that versatility to play in two more positions in the backline is beneficial. However, Smith’s best position is at fly-half. He is one of the best in the world – if not the best in the world – when given a decent platform to attack.
Ford and Farrell are unquestionably the best in England and probably in the world at playing a kick for pressure/gain approach. It is ingrained on this England rugby team. Borthwick has to go against what he prefers which is a heavy structured style to start finding ways to develop a more attacking game plan. It is no secret that England’s attack is pretty awful at the moment. Having one of the great talents in world rugby, Henry Arundell chasing kicks in the third-place playoff against Argentina was a case in point on where England’s attach is currently. Arundell like Mitchell and Martin can get England rugby back to the top.
Jones said that England may need to ‘hurt’ a bit by properly backing Smith and getting him into the team. It is the right call if England want to adapt their game without losing the set-piece/kicking for territory strengths that have been the mainstay of England rugby for so long. It starts with Smith being given the keys at number 10 with Farrell to play the role as mentor on the bench. Such is the competitor in Farrell, he will hate that role but England need to look to the future now.
England Rugby duo of Mitchell and Martin can get England rugby back to the top
The emergence of Alex Mitchell, George Martin and Ben Earl over the last two months is a big plus for Borthwick. They are three genuine talents who needed prolonged exposure at this level and they have excelled as a result. Earl in particular has exploded into one of the best back-rowers in the game. The challenge for the England management is to try and get the best out of these talents. Earl is so explosive in everything he does that he could excel in the 2024 Six Nations. It may be a bit premature to say that he is the northern hemisphere equivalent of Ardie Savea but he is not far away.
George Martin absolutely melted any Springbok that came across his path in the semi-final. England have been crying out for an enforcer in the Eben Etzebeth mould. In Martin, they have a rough diamond who is only going to get better. With the international game getting faster and more physical, England need an enforcer who can clear rucks and give the likes of Mitchell quick ball to work with.
Mitchell is England’s starting scrum-half
And then there is Mitchell. Not in England’s World Cup squad to begin with he has come in and made the scrum-half jersey his own. It hasn’t been perfect but he came of age like Martin against the Springboks. The basics were there with the box-kicking very good but it is his sniping that will offer England much going forward. England fans should imagine how good he could be in combination with Marcus Smith. Mitchell and Martin can get England rugby back to the top.
England cannot sit still after a positive World Cup campaign. The foundations are there but more importantly there are youngsters ready to go hard at the highest level. Mitchell and Martin can get England back to the top.