England's selection headache facing Steve Borthwick ahead of Samoa

CHRIS FOY: Owen Farrell, George Ford AND Marcus Smith should all start against Samoa… while Tom Curry’s availability provides Steve Borthwick with a back-row selection headache with England at full strength

  • England face Samoa in their final World Cup Pool D fixture on Saturday
  • Steve Borthwick has a full strength side and could pick his strongest team 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

England are stepping up preparations for their final Pool D fixture, against Samoa on Saturday, after enjoying some welcome down-time last week. 

Steve Borthwick has a fully-fit and ban-free squad to choose from, now that Tom Curry has served the two-match suspension imposed after his head clash in the first game against Argentina. 

There have been some tricky selection dilemmas for the head coach to ponder, before naming his team on Thursday afternoon, for the next game in Lille. 

That could serve as a dry run for their likely quarter-final against Fiji in Marseille on October 15 – as England have already qualified and are now just awaiting confirmation of their opposition. 

Here, Mail Sport assesses the equation in each area, with both suggested and expected choices for when Borthwick unleashes his strongest side – possibly against Samoa this weekend…

Steve Borthwick has a fully-fit and ban-free England squad to choose from for Samoa

Back three

This is the part of the field where there is likely to be the biggest distinction between the outside views of someone not picking the team – and those of the man burdened by that responsibility. 

There is a safety-first scenario and a high-risk alternative with potentially sky-high rewards. This observer and many others would like to see England go for broke. Marcus Smith is a game-changer, so let him start. 

Back this golden gamble of having the Harlequins prodigy at full-back from the off, with Freddie Steward nominally on one wing, but primed to become the last line of defence when the opposition are in possession. 

Go the whole hog and pick prolific Henry Arundell on the other wing, allowing for a potent mix of creativity, aerial prowess, pace and finishing class. 

In reality, Borthwick is more likely to revert to Steward at full-back, Elliot Daly on the left and – although it could be a close call – the experienced Jonny May on the right.

Predicted Borthwick plan: 15. Steward. 14. May. 11. Daly.

Foy’s selection: 15. Smith. 14. Arundell. 11. Steward.

Marcus Smith is a game-changer, so let him start at full-back from the off against Samoa


The decision here primarily comes down to making best use of the captain. Owen Farrell is available and functioned well in tandem with Smith as England – after a slow start – cut Chile to shreds in their last game. 

He wore 10 in that game, but Borthwick appears to be veering towards a restoration of the familiar alliance with George Ford. 

It is not perfect, as Farrell is not a bona fide inside centre, but the pair have worked effectively together in the past, not least in the demolition of New Zealand at the last World Cup. 

If England are going to contemplate having two or even three playmakers all starting in their back line, they need carrying clout so Manu Tuilagi should be deployed in the wider midfield channel, although Ollie Lawrence is a capable, powerful, explosive alternative. 

This is a likely choice by Borthwick and a logical one. Joe Marchant could become a useful bench option as he can cover wing as well as centre.

Predicted Borthwick plan: 13. Tuilagi. 12. Farrell (capt).

Foy’s selection: 13. Tuilagi. 12. Farrell (capt).

Owen Farrell (left) is available and functioned well in tandem with Smith (right)

Half back

Starting with Farrell at 12 is a reflection of how Ford has forced his way back to the front of the playmaker pecking order. 

His performance in the defiant, 14-man win over Argentina was utterly imperious, authoritative and technically outstanding. His control and decision-making under pressure were flawless and the second of three drop goals he struck could be mounted on a wall in the Louvre. It was a long-range masterpiece of the art. 

Ford was similarly commanding in the win over Japan and, against Chile, Smith benefited from his typically well-timed assist for a late try. Scrum-half is more uncertain. 

Borthwick appears to be facing a toss-up between Danny Care and Alex Mitchell, as someone who can provide a quick, slick link between backs and forwards. 

It’s hard to tell which way he will go. Mitchell has started the bigger games so perhaps the Saint has the edge, but Care’s wily nous and experience would be invaluable in tight contests.

Predicted Borthwick plan: 10. Ford. 9. Mitchell.

Foy’s selection: 10. Ford. 9. Care.

George Ford was commanding in the win over Japan, following up his outstanding display against Argentina

Front row

Two places appear to be sewn up, despite some rotation so far. At loosehead, Joe Marler and Bevan Rodd have both enjoyed impressive starting appearances, but Ellis Genge is one of Borthwick’s key men; an influential vice-captain with a track record of igniting England with his rampaging carries. 

Memories of him blasting through Wallabies last summer are still fresh in the memory and his team need such ferocious clout when they face leading rivals. 

At hooker, it is Jamie George all the way. Theo Dan made a statement against Chile about his capacity to offer an extra dimension off the bench, but George is one of the stalwarts of the Red Rose pack and a certain starter, deservedly so. 

His experience and set-piece prowess are vital assets. At tighthead, it has been a merry-go-round lately. 

Dan Cole did well from the start against Argentina and Will Stuart is a dependable figure in the scrum and around the field, but if he is fully fit, Kyle Sinckler must surely start.

Predicted Borthwick plan: 1. Genge. 2. George. 3. Sinckler.

Foy’s selection: 1. Genge. 2. George. 3. Sinckler.

Jamie George (left), Ellis Genge (right) and Kyle Sinckler must start for England on Saturday

Second row

Maro Itoje has had one rest and that is almost certainly his last at this World Cup. The Saracen is one of the shoo-ins in the England side, although that assured status has not always been justified by his form over a difficult last couple of years. 

But in the opening win in Marseille, Itoje hounded the Pumas in his best Test performance since the last World Cup in 2019. 

In his pomp, he is a World XV contender and England will need him at that level as this campaign intensifies, if they are to have a shot of upsetting the title favourites. 

Alongside him, Ollie Chessum is bound to be Borthwick’s choice and that is justified based on the way he has established himself this year, as a stand-out, emerging asset of this new Red Rose regime. 

The Leicester lock offers bulk and power, but also athleticism and game awareness. His fellow Tiger, George Martin, is another heavyweight option, but Chessum is the likely partner for Itoje, with good reason.

Predicted Borthwick plan: 4. Itoje. 5. Chessum.

Foy’s selection: 4. Itoje. 5. Chessum.

Maro Itoje (right) is one of the shoo-ins in the England side and looks set to start this weekend

Back row

Now that Curry is available again, this selection headache is a veritable migraine. Various candidates have made compelling cases for inclusion. 

Ben Earl has been a force-of-nature presence since casting off his fringe-man frustrations during the summer. Jack Willis was magnificent in the thumping win over Chile, with the usual torrent of tackles and jackals, not to mention a late try for good measure. 

Lewis Ludlam has been typically passionate and ferocious whenever he has been involved. But two men cannot be ignored by Borthwick; Curry – world-class as the country’s pre-eminent openside, and Courtney Lawes, who led the side so well in the absence of Farrell. 

Both must start and will start, which means all the rest have just one place up for grabs. 

Billy Vunipola is the only out-and-out No 8 in the squad, so in theory he should be the favourite to line up at the base of the scrum. But on recent form, Borthwick must persist with the dynamic Earl – and that is surely the way he will go.

Predicted Borthwick plan: 6. Lawes. 7. Curry. 8. Earl.

Foy’s selection: 6. Lawes. 7. Curry 8. Earl.

Tom Curry (centre left) is back and available for selection after serving a two-game ban for his dangerous tackle in England’s World Cup opener against Argentina

Curry becoming available again will cause a selection headache for Borthwick

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