What we learnt from England’s Rugby World Cup warm-up match

Rugby Thursday August 10, 2023 By: Harry Howes

With the Rugby World Cup now less than a month away, all 20 nations are well underway in their preparations for the tournament in France.

England took on Wales in the first of four warm-up matches in Cardiff last week and while it may not have gone the way coach Steve Borthwick would have hoped, he will have learned plenty about his side’s capabilities.

Wales came out on top, beating England 20-9 in a low-scoring affair at the Principality Stadium. The hosts adopted a defensive gameplan in the first half, with George North coming to their rescue to prevent two England tries.

England were on top throughout the first period but failed to turn their dominance into points. Borthwick’s side went into the break 9-6 up thanks to three penalties from Marcus Smith.

But their failure to score tries came back to bite them as Wales improved in the second half. Warren Gatland’s team gained 22 turnovers after the break and converted two tries as they scored 14 points without reply.

Borthwick had pretty much decided his World Cup squad prior to the game but he used the Wales match to give a few players their final opportunity to impress. Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan for some of them, with eight of those that featured in Cardiff cut from the final squad that was named on Monday.

Rugby World Cup France 2023

What to expect from the second game against Wales?

England continue their World Cup warm-up games this weekend as they welcome Wales to Twickenham for a return fixture. Should they win their pool at the World Cup, there’s a good chance they’ll face either Wales or Australia in the knockout stage, so testing themselves against Gatland’s side is invaluable for their preparation.

Borthwick will be keen to see his side be more clinical this weekend, having dominated for periods without return against Wales last Saturday. With England’s 33-man World Cup squad now confirmed, the line-up this weekend may be more of a reflection of what we can expect to see against Argentina in their opening game in France.

For Wales, Gatland is not planning on naming his squad until after their match against South Africa next Saturday. They may choose to experiment with their line-up at Twickenham, giving England an opportunity to control the game and build some momentum.

Borthwick has chosen to take three fly-halves to France so all eyes will be on who gets the nod against Wales and whether this has any bearing on who will be first choice. Owen Farrell sat out against Wales but he remains captain so will be expecting to start.

Yet his versatility at being able to play centre could give an opportunity for Marcus Smith or George Ford to make the position their own.

England take on Wales at Twickenham at 17:30 on Saturday and you can watch the action in style with one of our exclusive hospitality packages.

England’s World Cup squad

Borthwick named his World Cup on Monday and among the surprise omissions were Exeter Chiefs centre Henry Slade and Harlequins star Alex Dombrandt. Slade has played at the last two World Cups but he’ll be disappointed to have missed out this time around.

Meanwhile, Dombrandt’s exclusion has raised a few eyebrows considering Billy Vuniploa, who hasn’t played since April, is the only recognised No. 8 in the squad. Dombrandt would have provided ideal competition but Borthwick may feel that the likes of Lewis Ludlam, Ben Earl and Tom Curry can deputise if necessary.

Since taking over from Eddie Jones as England’s head coach in December, Steve Borthwick has trusted Owen Farrell with the armband and will do once again in France with the announcement that he will captain the side in his third World Cup.

This also suggests that Owen Farrell will be England’s first choice fly-half heading into the tournament, but his ability to play as a centre could benefit Marcus Smith or George Ford who will also be a part of England’s plans in France.

The England squad is packed full of experience, with more than 1,400 caps between them, although 16 of them are in line to make their World Cup debuts.

They’ll all be keen to make an impression in England’s final three warm-up games before the tournament gets underway next month. Following Saturday’s match against Wales, Borthwick’s side travel to Ireland on 19th August before hosting Fiji a week later.

Forwards: Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Tom Curry, Theo Dan, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marler, George Martin, David Ribbans, Bevan Rodd, Kyle Sinckler, Will Stuart, Billy Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis.

Backs: Henry Arundell, Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Ollie Lawrence, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Jack van Poortvliet, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs.

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