Uncapped duo reportedly set to start England’s Six Nations opener

Jared Wright
Northampton Saints' Fraser Dingwall (left) and Tommy Freeman celebrate after the Investec Champions Cup match at Thomond Park.

Northampton Saints' Fraser Dingwall (left) and Tommy Freeman celebrate after the Investec Champions Cup match at Thomond Park.

Head coach Steve Borthwick will reportedly hand starting Test debuts to two players in England’s Six Nations opener against Italy.

Borthwick will be without the services of fly-halves Owen Farrell, who is taking a sabbatical from Test rugby this year before his move to Racing 92, and Marcus Smith, who sustained an injury in training, ruling him out of the first game, at least.

The pair’s unavailability led many to suggest that Northampton Saints’ star Fin Smith would earn his Test debut against the Azzurri in round one of the Six Nations, but if reports are to be believed, that is not the case.

The England boss has seemingly backed experience in the half-backs but is set to hand two players their debuts in the starting line-up.

Debuts at flank and centre

Both the Telegraph and SportsMail report that Exeter Chiefs flanker Ethan Roots and Northampton Saints back Fraser Dingwall will start the first England Test of 2024.

Born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Roots qualifies for England through his English father and is set to earn his first cap in the number six jumper after a breakout season with Exeter Chiefs.

According to the reports, he is set to pack down alongside Bath’s Sam Underhill and Saracens’ Ben Earl at number eight, who starred at the Rugby World Cup.

Meanwhile, Dingwall is finally set to earn his first Test cap after 10 previous appearances in the England squad without cracking a matchday 23. He, too, has been in outstanding form, helping Saints to the top of the Premiership table and secure a spot in the Champions Cup play-offs.

Both publications report that Dingwall will be partnered by Henry Slade, who missed the 2023 Rugby World Cup squad but has forced his way back into the side through his form with Exeter Chiefs this season.

Experienced half-backs

Elliot Daly and Tommy Freeman are reportedly set to start on the wings, with Freddie Steward at full-back.

With Marcus Smith ruled out through injury, it is reported that George Ford will start at fly-half instead of Fin Smith, and the veteran number 10 will be partnered by Danny Care as Alex Mitchell is in doubt for the clash. Mitchell is ‘in danger’ of missing the entire Six Nations due to a wound getting infected on his leg. If he is unable to prove his fitness for the opener, Ben Spencer is set to make his return to the England jersey via the bench.

The tight five, according to the two reports, will be Joe Marler, Jamie George (c), Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, and Ollie Chessum.

Borthwick doesn’t seem to be taking the clash against Italy lightly despite the Red Rose being the only team that has never lost a Six Nations match to the Azzurri.

The Italians head into the Six Nations after a disappointing World Cup campaign, which featured record defeats to France and New Zealand as they crashed out of a tournament at the pool stages.

The clash in Rome on Saturday will also mark the first Test that Gonzalo Quesada, who took over from Kieran Crowley, will take charge of the Azzurri.

READ MORE: Expert Witness: Bernard Jackman backs James Ryan snub as the ‘right call’ with Ireland seeking to ‘cure’ World Cup hangover