Winners and losers from England’s Six Nations squad as Rugby World Cup stars miss out

Jared Wright
England scrum-half Danny Care, hooker Jamie George, head coach Steve Borthwick, and number eight Zach Mercer.

England scrum-half Danny Care, hooker Jamie George, head coach Steve Borthwick, and number eight Zach Mercer.

Following the announcement of Steve Borthwick’s England squad for the 2024 Six Nations, we pick our winners and losers.

The England boss has picked an exciting squad featuring several new faces while many players have earned recalls with Borthwick rewarding form.

Without further ado, here are our winners and losers.


New Skipper – Jamie George

Borthwick was always going to appoint a new England captain for the Six Nations after Owen Farrell took a break from international rugby and Courtney Lawes hung up his Test boots.

With a host of young players featuring in the squad, the England boss could have gone down the same route as Warren Gatland and selected a rising star as his skipper. However, he has instead rewarded a long-term servant of England rugby in Jamie George.

The Saracens hooker has been one of the most consistent players in his position on the international stage for several years now. He fits the cliche of leading from the front and putting his body on the line.

The 33-year-old is a well-respected and liked player in the England set-up and will bring a different approach to his leadership than Farrell did.

Deserved recalls

As already mentioned, Borthwick has rewarded Premiership and European form with his selection, and that is highlighted by the host of players who have earned recalls to the Test set-up.

Northampton Saints’ stars Tommy Freeman, Tom Pearson, Alex Coles and George Furbank have all been crucial in the East Midlands side’s success. Furbank is particularly deserving, having been in and out of the squad in recent seasons, but has been sublime this campaign. Likewise for Freeman, while Pearson has put his World Cup disappointment behind him to press his claim.

Much like the Saints’ quartet, Bath’s stars have been rewarded for their success under Johann van Graan. Beno Obano has enjoyed an injury-free run of matches and is right back in contention, even for a start, and is joined by the brilliant scrum-half Ben Spencer.

Luke Cowan-Dickie’s career was on the line after a neck injury last year, but he has been solid for Sale Sharks and earned his recall immediately, strengthening England’s hooker depth.

Saracens’ back-five forward Nick Isiekwe will fancy his chances of filling Lawes’ boots in the Test set-up, especially with George Martin being sidelined. At the same time, prop Joe Heyes will have similar hopes, having also earned a recall after missing the World Cup.

Uncapped seven

A new World Cup cycle goes hand in hand with a turnover of talent as youth is thrust into the limelight and given the opportunity to shine and prove their credentials.

Borthwick is certainly blooding the next generation across the board, and that is highlighted by selecting seven uncapped players.

Like Isiekwe, Harlequins’ star Chandler Cunningham-South has the chance to fill Lawes’ void after a cracking start to his time with the Famous Quarters.

The England boss will also be pleased that rising star Immanuel Feyi-Waboso picked the Red Rose over Wales, and there are plenty of young, fresh, and rapid feet in the backline with Sale’s Tom Roebuck and Harlequins’ Oscar Beard claiming maiden call-ups after their stellar seasons to date.

Exeter’s Kiwi-born back-rower Ethan Roots is another long-term prospect for England and will add the kind of abrasive and physical approach to the game required in any Test set-up.

However, one of the most significant call-ups is at fly-half, with Fin Smith included, having brilliantly taken over the number 10 jumper at Saints following Dan Biggar’s departure. The 21-year-old has been nothing short of sensational and is well-placed to replace Farrell at number 10, given his form with East Midlanders. His teammate, Fraser Dingwall, is in the same boat as he, too, has been crucial to the side’s success and could finally earn a first Test cap.

Age is just a number

Experience is crucial at Test level, and particularly in top tournaments like the Six Nations, and while Borthwick has plenty of youth in the squad, he has included two veterans in Dan Cole and Danny Care.

But make no mistake, the two stars in their late 30s have not been called up as token-experienced squad members. There is a strong argument to be that both Cole (36) and Care (37) are the two form players in their positions in the Premiership.

Backed to hit the ground running

It is clear that Borthwick has put his faith in in-form players for the Six Nations, but there is still some space for proven quality and those who have been picked on reputation.

Up front, both Joe Marler and Ellis Genge have been backed despite the pair spending time on the sidelines before the squad was announced on Wednesday. Joining them in this category is Bath back-rower Sam Underhill, who hasn’t played since December.

Underhill produced a stunning performance in England’s Bronze Final at the World Cup, having missed out on the squad initially before being called up as an injury replacement, the kind of mental toughness and grit that obviously impressed Borthwick.

Steve Borthwick

Our final winner has to be the head coach himself, who has finally got the opportunity to mull over his squad for an extended period of time and get a closer look at the Premiership’s talent pool.

When he took over the job from Eddie Jones, he had a short turnaround time for the Six Nations and then the World Cup, so this is arguably the first time he has been able to pick a squad that is more suited to what he wants.


Injured quintet

Five players will be linking up with the squad but just to continue their respective rehabilitation programs.

It’s a particularly harsh blow for forward George Martin, who was in superb form for England at the World Cup, and looks set to miss the first round or two of the tournament, at least.

The same is true for Jack van Poortvliet, while Sale’s Raffi Quirke and Manu Tuilagi are also sidelined along with Tigers’ star Anthony Watson.

Unlucky snubs

Borthwick certainly rewarded a ton of players for their form domestically and in Europe, but he only had so many spots in his squad, meaning that there was always going to be standouts who were unlucky to miss out.

Bath have been brilliant this season, and wingers Joe Cokanasiga and Will Muir would have both thoroughly deserved call-ups, as would have Charlie Ewels and Tom Dunn.

Following Mako Vunipola’s retirement from international rugby and the injuries to Genge and Marler, there was an opportunity for several young looseheads to earn a call-up. However, Borthwick has backed the latter pair to hit the ground running in the white jersey, which meant that Fin Baxter and Asher Opoku-Fordjour – seen more as a loosehead by the Red Rose – were denied the chance to impress the England boss.

The long list of stars are unlucky not to crack the squad includes Harlequins’ Jack Walker, Saints’ Lewis Ludlam, and Bristol’s Max Malins – who all represented England at the World Cup, while Newcastle’s speedster Adam Radwan is also unfortunate.

Powerhouse number eights

One would have thought that with Billy Vunipola and Ludlam missing out on the squad that, one of the West Country number eights would crack the squad.

However, Alfie Barbeary and Zach Mercer have been snubbed in a somewhat puzzling move. Barbeary is set to be banned after his double-disciplinary citation from the clash with Racing 92, while Mercer is incredibly unlucky as he has been a standout for the Cherry and Whites since his return from injury and despite the side’s poor form.

Alex Dombrandt is undoubtedly deserving of a recall to the squad, but one cannot help but think the presence of Barbeary or Mercer was essential even alongside the Quins captain.

Kyle Sinckler

Props Marler and Genge were backed to return to form from injury quickly, but that was not the case for fellow front rower Kyle Sinckler.

Borthwick stated that he and his coaching staff have informed the tighthead prop of what he has to improve to get back into the squad, but is there more to his omission? Sinckler, like Ludlam, has been heavily linked with a move to the Top 14 next season and could be another reason for his snub.

Wales and Scotland miss out

The release of the England squad is a blow to Wales and Scotland, who had players on their radar who have now been included in Borthwick’s squad.

Reports stated that Wales were interested in Exeter’s star winger Feyi-Waboso, who ultimately rejected their advances to represent England instead. The 21-year-old represented Wales at youth levels but looks set to pull on a white jersey instead of a red one.

Meanwhile, Gregor Townsend was keen on capping Fin Smith as he looked to the future of the fly-half jersey with Finn Russell now in his 30s. However, the 21-year-old has followed Feyi-Waboso in selecting England instead of Scotland despite his grandfather, Tom Elliot, playing for Scotland and the Lions.

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