Steve Borthwick on picking Billy Vunipola and leaving out Alex Dombrandt and Henry Slade

Adam Kyriacou
England number eight Billy Vunipola walking out for squad photo.

England number eight Billy Vunipola walking out for squad photo.

England head coach Steve Borthwick has explained why he picked only one specialist number eight for the World Cup as well his call to leave out Henry Slade.

Saracens’ Billy Vunipola is the lone number eight in the group named on Monday, with flankers Ben Earl, Tom Curry, and Lewis Ludlam set to provide cover.

That means a shock exclusion for Alex Dombrandt, who has been a mainstay in Borthwick’s team since his appointment, and Slade, as both men miss the cut.

Dombrandt left out

The Dombrandt call especially could be seen as a risk as Vunipola has not played since mid-April after having two knee operations, but the boss isn’t worried.

“Billy has been fantastic in this training camp. I’ve seen just how hard he’s worked to come back from his injury,” the boss said after naming his 33 players.

“He looks in great shape and is the fittest I’ve ever seen him. His experience will add to this squad.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with him for a long period of time now and the opportunity to understand what the team needs.”


On the decision to axe Dombrandt, head coach Borthwick admitted that other players’ flexibility in terms of positions nudged them ahead of the Quins star.

“Alex has done really well and has trained well. He’s a very, very good player,” he said.

“There’s a lot of competition in the back-row, and there’s also flexibility around those positions.

“Lewis Ludlam has the ability to play six, seven and eight. Ben Earl has the ability to play seven and eight. Curry seven, eight and six.

“There’s a lot of flexibility there, and for me, it’s about making the decision on the right combination, and ultimately, that’s what it’s come down to.”

As well as the Dombrandt omission, the big talking point from Monday’s announcement was the absence of Exeter Chief Slade, who lost out to Joe Marchant.

Slade also absent

Borthwick’s reasoning for the decision was that he needed three fly-halves in his squad but stressed that Slade and others must stay ready for a late call-up.

“Henry has been excellent throughout the training camps,” he said.

“I decided we’d have three players in key positions – front-row, scrum-half, fly-half – for the obvious reasons. That means in the other areas of the team, you need to have positional flexibility.

“Henry was clearly disappointed, but the message to all the players who haven’t been selected is to be ready to come into the squad.

“We know there will be changes. Past World Cups show there are always bumps and bruises, and there will be changes.”

READ MORE: Winners and losers from the England Rugby World Cup squad