World Rugby

Winners And Losers From The England Rugby World Cup Training Squad

Winners And Losers From The England Rugby World Cup Training Squad

England Rugby head coach Steve Borthwick has named his first 28-man training squad for the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France. Zach Mercer has been included.

Jun 13, 2023
Winners And Losers From The England Rugby World Cup Training Squad

Steve Borthwick announced his 28-man England training squad on Monday, setting in motion a busy summer of preparation ahead of the World Cup.

The group assembled in Surrey and didn't include any members of the four Premiership semi-finalists, as each of the players from Saracens, Sale Sharks, Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers were given an extension to their time off.

Alongside those selected, Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola, Tigers forward Ollie Chessum, and Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie will attend to continue their rehabilitation from injury.

There were some expected selections, an overdue return of a few familiar faces and a handful of left-field selections, which will get the critics chattering. So who were the overall winners and losers of Borthwick’s latest England squad?


Zach Mercer

The long-awaited return of Zach Mercer doesn’t come as a huge surprise, given the form he’s been in over the past couple of years, and it proves he was right to consider a move to France all those years ago.

Mercer left Bath in 2021, having made his last England appearance in 2018, to explore pasture new in Montpellier, putting his international career on hold.

The number eight settled into his new surroundings with relative ease, winning a maiden Top 14 title with the French side in 2022 and also becoming the league’s player of the season.

This summer, he will return to England to join Gloucester and has therefore become eligible for international selection, and it’s taken little time for the call-up to come his way.

When he left, he was nowhere near the top of the pecking order, but he’s now genuinely in with a chance of starting in the World Cup.

It’s an impressive turnaround which few saw coming, except maybe Mercer. He’s now a firm fan’s favourite and considered by many to be a worthy replacement for Billy Vunipola in the number eight slot.

Danny Care

Just when you think Danny Care’s international career has reached its natural end, a selection curveball sends the veteran scrum half right back into the mix.

Care has 87 England caps to his name and made his last appearance on the summer tour of Australia a year ago.

When Borthwick selected Alex Mitchell, Jack van Poortvliet and Ben Youngs ahead of Care in the most recent Six Nations, it appeared the curtain was being drawn on an iconic career, but those who stood to serenade the departing hero may have been too early in their actions.

Care is back and, after clocking an impressive 12 assists in the Premiership this season for Harlequins, looks to be primed and ready to make an impact if called upon. There may be life in Care yet.

Val Rapava-Ruskin

At the ripe old age of 30, Val Rapava-Ruskin is a little old to be searching for a maiden England cap and yet the Gloucester prop may be the most deserving of that honour right now.

He’s had a stellar season for the Cherry and Whites, dominating at scrum time while also showing off an unbelievable knack for earning turnovers at the breakdown. 

And just as an added extra, he’s a pretty ferocious ball carrier, making for a genuinely exciting prospect for English fans. 

If all goes well, Rapava-Ruskin could wear the red rose in the not-too-distant future.


Harry Thacker

When Harry Thacker’s name appeared on the Barbarians team sheet a few weeks ago to face the World XV, it became pretty clear that the Bristol boy would not be featuring in Borthwick’s squad.

This may have given Thacker more time to digest the news, but it wouldn’t have made it any easier to accept, given the impressive season he's just had.

Even though Bristol struggled, their nimble hooker was a consistent presence with and without the ball, scoring 11 tries across the season – incidentally putting him joint third in the league overall – and racking up an even larger count of defenders beaten.

In a world where hookers are becoming more and more versatile and often used as an alternative centre, Thacker fits right in. Yet he's still been ignored, meaning his wait for a first England cap will wistfully go on.

Adam Radwan

England has a host of young wingers at their fingertips, making picking a select few a challenge. But even so, the omission of Adam Radwan feels harsh.

The Newcastle flyer possesses a particular set of skills that sets him apart from any other rival: his blistering acceleration, which is akin to Jason Robinson, and his penchant for acrobatic finishing in the corner.

Not all wingers are the strongest tacklers; not all are great under the high ball. Adam is more than adept at both; in fact, he’s shown on numerous occasions in the last 12 months that few can lace his boots when it comes to last-gasp try-saving tackles.

Radwan’s pace gives him an extra edge in attack and defence, and he’s frequently shown that he can catch up with runaway players and prevent all but certain tries. These skills are few and far between and would be valuable assets on the international circuit.

It isn’t just about consistency, often, games are won on bits of magic, and that’s exactly what Radwan provides.

Ben Loader 

Times have been tough for London Irish fans, but the most recent England squad announcement did give them cause to celebrate, with four Exiles making the cut.

However, there’s a strong argument to be made that it should have been five. Ben Loader has emphatically broken onto the scene since the autumn of 2022, making a name for himself as a stable fifteen with a dazzling step and imperious tackle strength.

He made a whopping 1081 metres in the Premiership this season and was comfortably better than teammates Henry Arundell and Will Joseph, who both made the England cut, though both have suffered injury setbacks this season.

Loader is still young, and you have to think that, someday soon, his time will come.