LONDON :Owen Farrell and Joe Marchant will fill England’s midfield with Marcus Smith at flyhalf in their Six Nations opener against Scotland on Saturday as Manu Tuilagi was omitted from the matchday squad announced by Steve Borthwick on Thursday.
When fit, Tuilagi has been one of the first names on the team sheet since his debut in 2011 but he has struggled to show his usual impact at Sale this season, opening the door for the return of Marchant.
The centre is due to leave Harlequins to join Stade Francais next season and so will not be eligible for England after the World Cup but new coach Borthwick’s hand was forced somewhat by injuries to Henry Slade, Elliot Daly and Dan Kelly.
The only time Smith, Farrell and Marchant have played together for England was in the 30-28 defeat to Australia in the first of a three-test series in Perth in July 2022 – after which Marchant was dropped and subsequently overlooked by former coach Eddie Jones.
Max Malins, another player recalled after being discarded by Jones despite topping the Premiership try-scoring charts last season, starts on the right wing.
London Irish’s Ollie Hassell-Collins will make his international debut on the left. Freddie Steward is at fullback, with Jack van Poortvliet starting at scrumhalf ahead of Leicester team mate Ben Youngs.
In the back row Ben Curry will make his first England start, after a replacement appearance in 2021 alongside Lewis Ludlam, with Alex Dombrandt at Number Eight.
Prop Dan Cole, whose last appearance was in the 2019 World Cup final defeat to South Africa, is on the bench.
Anthony Watson, who has had a wretched time with injuries and last played for England in the 2021 Six Nations, is also among the replacements – no longer “finishers” since the departure of Jones – along with in-form centre Ollie Lawrence.
“Marcus and Owen is the right combination for this game and Joe Marchant at 13 works really well with Marcus,” Borthwick said. “You see how those two connect, both will ball in hand and the great attacking kicks that Marcus has and the way Joe finds those.
“Some of England’s best performances have been with Owen in the 12 shirt and he has talked to me in the past about how he enjoys playing with other ball players.
“Ollie Lawrence has played tremendously well this season and we are excited about seeing him out there again because he is a player who has not been in the international environment for a year or two. He has power, speed and athleticism.”
Borthwick has spoken about rebuilding the team’s relationship with the fans and there is nothing a Twickenham full house enjoys more than a debutant winger getting his chance.
Hassell-Collins, along with Lawrence, is just the sort of player to get people out of their seats, and Borthwick gave the 24-year-old a ringing endorsement.
“He’s a terrific player,” he said. “He’s got speed, pace, he takes people on the outside, he cuts back in on his left foot, he’s good under the high ball. Defensively he’s a guy over a 100 kilos and 6ft 4ins and he can hit and he can run fast.”
England have lost three and drawn one of the last five Calcutta Cup meetings against their oldest rivals but are strong favourites to get their campaign and the Borthwick era off to a winning start at Twickenham.
“The players are determined to represent their country with a pride, commitment and fight that our supporters rightly deserve and expect,” Borthwick said. “There are a lot of players who have been fighting for an England opportunity for a period of time and now they have got their opportunity. I am really looking forward to it.”