Opinion: Who Steve Borthwick should pick for England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland

Jared Wright
The Steve Borthwick era starts on Saturday when England host Scotland in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham. Planet Rugby runs through Borthwick's squad and selects the team that he should pick for his first game in charge to beat the Scots. 

The Steve Borthwick era starts on Saturday when England host Scotland in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham.

Planet Rugby runs through Borthwick’s squad and selects the team we feel he should pick for his first match in charge to beat the Scots. 

The backs

15. Freddie Steward: A nailed-on starter, especially with the in-form Elliot Daly ruled out injured. Steward made the number 15 jumper his own under Eddie Jones, and having already worked with Steward at Leicester Tigers; Borthwick is well aware of his capabilities.

14. Anthony Watson: When Watson was fit, he played for Jones’ England. The talented outside back might not get the same treatment under Borthwick, but other injuries in the squad has opened the door for him to start in the opener. A classy operator, he provides a real threat with ball in, and his ability under the high balls makes him an incredibly safe yet exciting selection.

13. Ollie LawrenceThe 23-year-old has taken his game to another level since joining Bath, and selecting him over the likes of Dan Kelly and Manu Tuilagi is undoubtedly a bold call but one that can pay off in leaps and bounds. He would offer the pace and athleticism that Kelly brings but still has the power game that comes close to that of Tuilagi. Chris Harris will likely line up across from whoever starts at outside centre, and Lawrence has the skillset that will certainly test the defensive maestro.

12. Owen Farrell: The England captain would have featured at fly-half in our team had it not been for the injuries to Daly and Henry Slade. England will need an additional playmaker in the backline. Shifting Smith into the fly-half jersey and Farrell to inside centre is a move that causes the least disruption to the rest of the backline and can be highly effective.

11. Ollie Hassell-Collins: Borthwick has a few standout options to select from on the wings with Max Malins, Tommy Freeman and Cadan Murley also in the squad, but the London Irish superstar should finally earn his maiden cap. This season, he has refined his game and become more than just a lethal try scorer, improving his defensive work and adding a breakdown threat. He is also a left-footed kicker, something the England squad lacks with Slade and Daly out.

10. Marcus Smith: Harlequins’ ace playmaker quickly silenced any doubts over his fitness after a lengthy layoff and returned in fine form for his club. With Nick Evans taking over England’s attack, Smith is the perfect candidate to implement the attacking pattern and is ably supported by Farrell. Having two playmakers in a backline has become a staple for Test teams, and despite all his strength, Steward is not that at full-back, and Smith proved what he and Farrell, versus New Zealand last November, can do when they click.

9. Ben Youngs: Another player who could benefit from working under Borthwick at Leicester Tigers. If Youngs wasn’t going to play, he wouldn’t have been selected. Borthwick needs to select players he trusts and can implement his plans; Youngs will be essential to that.

The pack

8. Alex Dombrant: A standout for Harlequins, despite the side’s lacklustre run of results. Dombrandt is a big ball-carrying threat and a handy lineout option, the latter giving him the edge over Sam Simmonds. Borthwick has spoken at length about fixing England’s set-piece, and the Quins number eight could be a key cog in turning their fortunes around in those facets of the game.

7. Jack Willis: With Tom Curry ruled out of the Calcutta Cup, Willis is arguably the closest like-for-like replacement. Ben Earl has been equally strong with Saracens, but Willis is a more prominent threat over the ball. England will need to stifle Scotland’s ruck speed as much as possible, and Willis is best equipped to do so. Borthwick’s Leicester side profited hugely with Tommy Reffell’s brilliance at the breakdown, and Willis brings the same attributes to the table.

6. Ollie Chessum: Courtney Lawes’ injury is a massive blow for Borthwick, but Chessum offers a similar skillset to the British and Irish Lion. He ticks the boxes for a modern blindside flanker/lock utility and gets the edge over Nick Isiekwe for a start against Scotland. England need an abrasive presence at blindside who also provides an option in the lineout; the 22-year-old meets those requirements.

5. Jonny Hill: His form with Sale Sharks hasn’t been too convincing, but Hill adds grunt to the pack and could provide the physicality that will be required against Scotland. He will be under the pump for the starting jersey, which may spur on a solid performance.

4. Maro Itoje: Back in the second-row. Itoje is comfortably England’s best lock.

3. Dan Cole: Brought into the squad to solidify the scrum, Cole should go straight into the starting XV to aid England’s quest to get their campaign off to a strong start. Scotland will likely have the abrasive Pierre Schoeman in their starting line-up, and Cole will fancy his chances against the Edinburgh loosehead.

2. Jamie George: The veteran hooker has been cleared to play and is the straightforward choice in the squad. Borthwick has expressed the need to get the set-pieces firing, which is George’s strength.

1. Ellis Genge: The best scrummaging loosehead in the England squad and adds value around the park with his bulking carries and big hits. Another who Borthwick has worked with over the years, and it would be a surprise if he isn’t starting, the last easy selection from the squad.

The bench

Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, David Ribbans, Lewis Ludlam, Jack van Poortvliet, Max Malins, Manu Tuilagi

Uncapped hooker Walker has been consistently solid for Quins since his arrival at the club from Bath last season and should be rewarded for his form ahead of Tom Dunn.

Vunipola’s experience gets him the nod over Bevan Rodd, but the veteran is certainly not guaranteed a place while Sinckler is in the same boat ahead of Joe Heyes.

Ribbans’ performance for England last November should be factored in. Although he wasn’t selected in the initial squad, he does add an exciting threat off the bench along with clubmate Ludlam, who covers all three back-row positions.

Van Poortvliet has proven his ability off the bench, and with Malins and Tuilagi, England have cover and players who can change the game in the latter stages.

READ MORE: Six Nations preview: RFU’s risk to fall flat with Steve Borthwick faltering in first tournament in charge of England