With just a couple of months to go until the 2023 Rugby World Cup begins, it seems like the right sort of time to take a look at all of the different teams in the competition, as well as their chances of lifting the trophy.
So let’s take a look at the 2003 Champions England, who will head into the tournament with a brand new coach and coming off the back of very mixed results.
How do England head into the tournament
12 months ago, I would have been talking about England preparing for their second Rugby World Cup with Eddie Jones in charge. But after another poor run in the Autumn internationals last year, it is now Steve Borthwick in charge of this England team.
As he has been in the job for less than a year, it is difficult to judge where this England team is. The Six Nations earlier this year is the only time we have seen Borthwick’s England against the top opposition in the world.
England won just two of their five Six Nations games, starting off with a very disappointing result against Scotland at Twickenham. England’s defence allowed Scotland straight through at times and they just seemed to forget how to tackle at times.
They may have bounced back against Italy, but even in that game England had spells where they looked poor. A confident win against Wales was followed by one of the worst results in England Six Nations history.
France demolished England from the very first minute. The difference in physicality between the French and English packs were made very clear in this game and England looked nowhere near the quality of this French side.
Strangely enough, England followed it up with a pretty good performance against the Grand Slam champions Ireland. Despite a controversial red card to Freddie Steward, England put up a good performance, with Ireland only able to pull away in the final 15 minutes. It was a much better all around performance for this team.
The story is not much better if we take a look at the domestic English sides. In Europe, Exeter Chiefs were the only English team to make it to the Semi-finals of either the Champions Cup or the Challenge Cup.
The focus around this English team has often been what is happening off the field. It is already pretty clear that Steve Borthwick is trusting the guys he knows from his time with Leicester. England fans have already been frustrated by some strange selection choices, even in the training squad for the tournament.
There is a concern that despite the change in coach, the philosophy of this team may be the exact same as under Eddie Jones. The free flowing attack that was expected with Nick Evans as attack coach has not really been seen yet and the defence is not yet at the level to make up for a lacklustre attack.
England’s team for the tournament
With a new head coach, it is not easy to pick the team that will start at the tournament. England are mainly healthy, although they will be without starting Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie for the tournament. Ollie Chessum, Ollie Lawrence and both the Vunipola brothers face a race against time to be healthy for the tournament.
Upfront seems to be pretty set, with Ellis Genge one of the first names on the team sheet and Jamie George the experienced starter. While Kyle Sinckler seems the most likely to start at tighthead, don’t be surprised if you see Will Stuart or even Dan Cole given a go.
The entire forward pack is pretty difficult to pick, with Maro Itoje one of the few easy picks. While his partner in the second row could be Dave Ribbans who started the final game of the Six Nations, it would also be the returning Ollie Chessum or Sale Sharks big man Johnny Hill.
We are yet to really know whether Courtney Lawes will be used as a flanker or a second row, but considering how England were physically dismantled against France earlier this year, don’t be surprised to see Lawes in the back row. Zach Mercer might have been a lot of fans pick to start at 8, but considering he has been omitted from the most recent training squad, that seems unlikely.
Fly-half is a difficult one to pick, but Marcus Smith seems like he is going to be used as an impact player, with captain Owen Farrell starting at 10 alongside the inexperienced Jack van Poortvliet.
A healthy Manu Tuilagi might always seem to be a England’s choice at 12, but Ollie Lawrence has been one of the shining lights of this recent England team. As long as he can return from the knee injury that has kept him out of the training camp over the last few weeks, Lawrence should be on the outside of Farrell in attack for England.
His partner is similarly difficult to choose, with Henry Slade certainly the favourite. The back three is likely to be pretty set, with the two Leicester backs set in the backline. Henry Arundell will likely be on the wing although he faces competition from Max Malins, Cadan Murley, Joe Cokanasiga and Johnny May.
1.Ellis Genge-Bristol Bears
2.Jamie George- Saracens
3.Kyle Sinckler-Bristol Bears
5.David Ribbans-Northampton Saints
6.Courtney Lawes-Northampton Saints
9.Jack van Poortvliet-Leicester Tigers
11.Henry Arundell-Racing 92
13.Henry Slade-Exeter Chiefs
14.Anthony Watson-Leicester Tigers
15.Freddie Steward-Leicester Tigers
Who to look out for in this England squad?
The forward pack of this English side is going to need to become a lot stronger and a lot better athletes. Maro Itoje was the driving force in this team making it to the World Cup final four years ago and if he can return to world class form, it will make things a lot easier for this England side.
The captain has got a massive role to play as the England attack has struggled massively. He has some exciting weapons outside of him and so Farrell needs to be a bit more expansive. The Saracens man struggled with his kicking in the Six Nations, so he needs to improve with the boot at this tournament.
Outside of that, it is difficult to pick who will play a key role in this England team because of all of the changes they have gone through recently. Ollie Lawrence will need to show the brute strength and force that he showed in the Premiership on the world stage. There is a lot of guys looking to prove themselves at this tournament.
England’s path to winning the tournament
With the draw being three years ago, England have certainly been blessed with an easy path to the semi-finals. Japan and Argentina won’t be easy in their group, but they are both teams that England would usually be expected to cruise past. If they can finish top of their group, things remain pretty simple in the quarter-finals.
With the disarray that is Welsh rugby at the moment, there is a good chance that England could be facing Fiji or even possibly Georgia. It is the semi-final stage where things get difficult for Steve Borthwick’s team. It is likely to be home side France in that semi-final and England would need to pull off one of the best results in team history to make it to the final.
The only hope that I think a lot of England fans have is that many of the player’s in this squad have played at a world class level in the past. Steve Borthwick has shown he has the ability to improve player’s at different levels. He was instrumental in the Tigers Premiership win in 2022 and Borthwick could improve these players again.
What are England’s chances of winning the tournament?
Changing your manager this close to a major tournament is usually not a great sign for any team. England will have a massive challenge to compete at this tournament. But it is not all doom and gloom for Steve Borthwick’s team.
A lot of the players who led England to the World Cup final four years ago will be back and even better. Alongside that, England will be pleased to see the brilliant domestic form of players like Henry Arundell, Jack Willis, Owen Farrell and Ollie Lawrence. Seeing as a lot of the England squad is being picked off by French teams, there must be some quality in this side.
On the other hand, we have seen England struggle against the biggest teams in the world over the last few years. There is a lack of physicality in this English pack that cannot be fixed overnight. At the moment anyway it doesn’t seem like Borthwick is going to make major changes before this tournament.
So England will need some magic from somewhere for this tournament to be a successful one for them. I don’t think the chances of England winning the tournament are very high at all.
Predicted finish for Rugby World Cup 2023: Semi-Final Exit