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The 23 players fighting for their international future – meet the Englishmen looking to upset Ireland


Manu Tuilagi is back in the England team for the first time in the 2023 Six Nations. Image: Sportsfile.

Manu Tuilagi is back in the England team for the first time in the 2023 Six Nations. Image: Sportsfile.

Manu Tuilagi is back in the England team for the first time in the 2023 Six Nations. Image: Sportsfile.

Ireland are on the verge of a Grand Slam with only Steve Borthwick’s under-fire England side standing in their way. These are the 23 players who will be looking to ruin a special day at the Aviva Stadium.

15 – Freddie Steward (22, 21 caps, Leicester)

Steward has been a breakout star since making his England debut in 2021 and was one of the world's in-form fullbacks until this championship. Was a key man in Leicester's Premiership win under Steve Borthwick last season and his kicking game is heavily relied upon.

14 – Anthony Watson (29, 54 caps, Leicester)

Watson is back in the England starting team after a terrible run of injuries and is one of the more experienced members of the side. Started tests on both the 2017 and 2021 Lions tours and remains a lethal finisher.

13 – Henry Slade (29, 55 caps, Exeter Chiefs)

The gifted playmaker is often used as a second receiver but has come under pressure for his place after a mediocre Six Nations to date, although he is now back in a familiar 10/12/13 axis.

12 – Manu Tuilagi (31, 50 caps, Sale Sharks)

For years, Eddie Jones pinned England's hopes on the gifted centre but after a poor autumn, Borthwick opted to drop him ahead of his inaugural Six Nations in charge. Injuries and a dire need for a midfield presence sees him back in the starting team. Has never lost to Ireland in six matches.

11 – Henry Arundell (20, 4 caps, London Irish)

Arundell has been marked as a potential star since scoring with his first touch in international rugby against Australia last summer. Has plenty of potential but this will be a huge test in his first England start.

10 – Owen Farrell (31, 105 caps, Saracens)

After being dropped for a Six Nations game for the first time last weekend, Borthwick has returned to Farrell, who has struggled with his kicks off the deck and hasn't exerted his usual influence in general play. This is an important game for him to re-establish himself as the main man at out-half.

9 – Jack van Poortvliet (21, 11 caps, Leicester)

JVP has been anointed as England's next scrum-half but his performances during the autumn and this Six Nations don't justify the hype. Borthwick has a major problem with depth at nine.

1 – Ellis Genge (28, 47 caps, Bristol)

It was unfair on Genge that his first game captaining England was a record home defeat last weekend. The loosehead has been one of their top performers during the Six Nations and remains their best source of go-forward ball in the pack.

2 – Jamie George (32, 76 caps, Saracens)

The fact that George is still the unchallenged incumbent, with the two other hookers in the squad with three caps between them, should be alarming for Borthwick. The Saracens isn’t the player he was in 2019.

3 – Kyle Sinckler (29, 60 caps, Bristol)

Sinckler is a quality player but is another big name whose form has dipped in the absence of any credible challenger at the position.

4 – Maro Itoje (28, 66 caps, Saracens)

The talismanic second row looks a shell of the player who dominated world rugby for years, but the Saracen recently revealed that he has been battling an illness for some time that was impacting his form.

5 – David Ribbans (27, 4 caps, Northampton)

A rangy second row but looks a bit off the level required.

6 – Lewis Ludlam (27, 18 caps, Northampton)

Another player who has given a reasonably good account of himself in a floundering team. The abrasive back row is a strong carrier and solid defender.

7 – Jack Willis (26, 9 caps, Toulouse)

In another blow for Borthwick, Willis - who has the potential to be a star for England - has reportedly signed a contract extension for Toulouse which could rule him out of international action after the World Cup.

8 – Alex Dombrandt (25, 13 caps, Harlequins)

The Harlequins number eight looked out of his depth against France and has had a very poor championship. It could well cost him a place at the World Cup and he is lucky to start this weekend.


16 – Jack Walker (26, 3 caps, Harlequins)

The inexperienced hooker will only likely be called upon to see out the closing minutes unless George picks up an injury.

17 – Mako Vunipola (32, 78 caps, Saracens)

Previously one of the world's best looseheads, Vunipola looks past his best - but again, there aren't many compelling options to replace him.

18 – Dan Cole (35, 99 caps, Leicester)

Bringing Cole back into the fold as he closes in on his 100th England cap was a nice story but also smacked of desperation. Where have all the English tightheads gone?

19 – Nick Isiekwe (24, 8 caps, Saracens)

The Saracens second row brings a decent amount of physicality to the table but isn’t the most dynamic.

20 – Ben Curry (24, 4 caps, Sale Sharks)

Curry is a decent player but is not at the level of brother Tom, whose absence has been felt during this Six Nations.

21 – Alex Mitchell (25, 4 caps, Northampton)

Mitchell tried his best to inject life off the bench against France, but ended up making England look even more ragged. Another player who has looked good at club level, but struggled with the step up.

22 – Marcus Smith (24, 21 caps, Harlequins)

Nothing indicates the gulf in class between the Premiership and international rugby than Smith's struggles in the England jersey. The Harlequins playmaker produces at least three jaw-dropping moments per game at club level - so far in the international arena, it has been his mistakes that have stood out, and he has been dropped after last weekend’s embarrassing defeat.

23 – Joe Marchant (26, 14 caps, Harlequins)

Marchant has plenty of pace in the centre but lacks a physical presence. Is set to join Stade Francais at the end of the season so this will most likely be his last Six Nations appearance for a few years.

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