Henry Slade set to be biggest omission from England World Cup squad
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Henry Slade is likely to be left out of Steve Borthwick’s final 33-man squad for the Rugby World Cup. As one of several Exeter players who featured in England’s disappointing loss to Wales, the back is expected to be axed by Borthwick in favor of Joe Marchant, their best performer in Cardiff.

With Slade’s status within the squad and as one of English rugby’s most naturally gifted players, his absence comes as a huge surprise. It is believed that he has been informed by Borthwick that he will not be included in the squad announced on Monday. He started four Six Nations matches this year and has 56 caps to his name. Alex Dombrandt and Tom Willis are also likely to be left out, along with Tom Pearson and Tom Willis. Instead, the head coach will opt for a 19th forward. In place of Billy Vunipola, Lewis Ludlam is expected to provide No 8 cover for Ben Earl. It is expected that Joe Cokanasiga will be omitted, with Henry Arundell preferred as the point of difference on the wing.

He finished Saturday’s match on the wing, proving that Marchant is versatile and powerful, rather than relying on Slade’s sleight of hand. Additionally, Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence are likely to have busy tournaments and could pair up for the first time against Wales on Saturday.

Indeed, England’s omission of Slade suggests that they will not play particularly expansively in France, rather relying on the kick-heavy strategy that Borthwick and his coaches employed so well at Leicester. However, Slade’s absence can be considered a blow for aesthetes. As a thirty-year-old, he may have not seized matches as often as his talent suggests, but his skill set will be missed in France.

With 19 forwards and 10 at the back, Borthwick is keen to bolster his forward ranks. George Martin and David Ribbans are in line for the nod despite inauspicious performances in Cardiff. In addition to them, Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum and Courtney Lawes will likely form the lock options. Jack Willis and Tom Curry will likely join Vunipola, Ludlam and Earl in the back row. As a result of Pearson’s mixed debut in Cardiff, he’s expected to lose his place while Vunipola’s knee injury has kept him out of action. While in 2019, Mark Wilson acted as the stand-in, it was a similar story. Borthwick’s commitment to taking three scrumhalves – Ben Youngs, Jack van Poortvliet and Danny Care – as well as three No 10s – Owen Farrell, George Ford and Marcus Smith – meant the onus was on versatility elsewhere in the backs. Marchant’s ability to play on the wing will have counted in his favor, even though Slade makes occasional appearances at full-back. Also, Slade’s inclusion put the writing on the wall.

Another versatile player in the back-three is Elliot Daly, who will be joined by Anthony Watson, Freddie Steward, Max Malins, and Arundell. Arundell has played only once for England – a forgettable appearance against Ireland – but he has the X factor that Borthwick needs.

Due to a back injury sustained at the end of last season, Mako Vunipola will also be excluded.