England’s strongest XV for World Cup opener against Pumas after Owen Farrell ban
And there we have it. England captain Owen Farrell has eventually received the ban many people thought he would receive last week, and will now miss four matches, which rules him out of England’s opening World Cup matches against Argentina and Japan.
Last weekend’s match against Ireland, which Farrell was stood down for, is included in the four matches, which means the flyhalf is set to miss Saturday’s warm-up against Fiji, as well as the opening Tests of the World Cup.
Head coach Steve Borthwick would have known such a ban was coming, and will already have a plan in place for how England will cope without their flyhalf (if they’ve ever had a plan at all). With that in mind, this is what his starting XV is likely to look like come their World Cup opener.
1. Ellis Genge
Genge’s role as captain in Farrell’s absence and his consistent top-notch performances over the past 18 months make his inclusion obvious.
2. Jamie George
With Luke Cowan-Dickie sidelined due to injury and the backup hookers Theo Dan and Jack Walker only having a handful of caps between them, George, a two-time British & Irish Lions tourist, is a near certainty to start in England’s important matches.
3. Kyle Sinckler
Just like Genge at loosehead, Sinckler has been England’s go-to tighthead for an extended period, and that’s unlikely to change.
4. Maro Itoje
Though his place is not as secure as it once was, Itoje is still a long way from being dropped.
5. David Ribbans
If England wants to establish physical dominance, Ribbans, the largest second-row with all other options being lock-flanker hybrids, could play a crucial role.
6. Courtney Lawes
Although many still view Lawes as a lock, he has primarily been used as a flanker since the 2019 World Cup for both club and country. It’s unlikely that Borthwick will make any changes there. If he’s fit and in form, Lawes offers a lot to England, and while he’ll face competition from Jack Willis, he is surely set to replace Farrell as captain.
7. Tom Curry
A consistent presence in the starting lineup, Curry is likely to start in England’s crucial matches. Jack Willis also provides strong competition for the No. 7 shirt.
8. Ben Earl
It is anyone’s guess who could step up in Billy Vunipola’s absence should he be banned, but Earl is next best option in the current squad for stepping up to play at No8.
9. Ben Youngs
Despite his absence during the Six Nations, no one made a compelling case to take the No9 shirt from England’s most capped player.
10. George Ford
Ford is the likely candidate to fill Farrell’s boots, having formed a relationship with Borthwick at Leicester Tigers.
11. Anthony Watson
Despite strong competition for the No11 and No14 shirts from utility backs in the squad, Watson, a five-cap Lions winger, is a strong contender.
12. Manu Tuilagi
Although Tuilagi hasn’t been at his best in an England shirt recently, his improved form with Sale Sharks suggests he’s a must-start if his trajectory continues upward.
13. Joe Marchant
Emerged as the leading outside centre for England during the August warm-ups and one of the few players that have put in good performances.
14. Elliot Daly
The versatility and long range boot Daly provides may just earn him a starting berth ahead of Max Malins here, but this is a close one.
15. Freddie Steward
Borthwick has not even experimented with a replacement in the No15 shirt, as it looks to be Steward’s for every match.