Joe Marler edges closer to England World Cup squad
The decision by Steve Borthwick to cut his loosehead prop rival, Bevan Rodd, was a significant step towards Joe Marler’s World Cup selection. With Borthwick’s plans for the tournament in France taking shape, Sam Underhill has also been left out of the latest 39-man England squad.
Having met Borthwick face-to-face this year convinced Marler to pursue another campaign, and with Rodd out of the picture, the 33-year-old is on track for his third straight World Cup.
Marler has not played for England since the 2022 Six Nations and retired from international duty in 2018. Marler has expressed concerns about spending long periods away from his family and has not toured since the 2019 World Cup, but has since been reassured by Borthwick.
As Mako Vunipola continues his rehabilitation from a back injury, Ellis Genge and the uncapped Val Rapava-Ruskin are the other two looseheads in the squad, but Marler offers solidity at the scrum that Borthwick values. Considering doubts remain over Vunipola’s injury, it would be surprising if Marler does not make the final 33.
As a result of Borthwick’s wealth of back-row options, Underhill effectively misses out. In a difficult Six Nations campaign, Jack Willis was one of England’s few bright spots and has since won the Top 14 title with Toulouse. Underhill, who hasn’t played for England under Borthwick but impressed the head coach in the early summer camps after another injury-affected campaign, is also fit again after missing the Six Nations. As a result, there is no room in the squad for the specialist openside flanker, who hasn’t appeared for England under Borthwick but impressed him in the early summer camps.
The final squad will also include Lewis Ludlam, Tom Pearson, Tom Willis, Alex Dombrandt, as well as Billy Vunipola, who is certain to be selected if he can prove his fitness. In addition to Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Ollie Chessum, Jack Walker and Ollie Lawrence are in rehab camps. Lawrence is believed to be the closest to full fitness among the five.
In the meantime, the Rugby Football Union is planning to overhaul its governance structure and decision-making process after three Premiership clubs folded in a nightmare season. A review of the RFU’s organisational structures, relationships between the council, board, and executive, and decision-making processes will be conducted.