Premiership Rugby

Five Star Players English Rugby Should Desperately Bring Home

Five Star Players English Rugby Should Desperately Bring Home

Explore England Rugby's financial woes, overseas exodus and crucial players, including Willis, Marchant, Arundell, Simmonds and Ribbans.

Nov 17, 2023
Five Star Players English Rugby Should Desperately Bring Home

There’s always a fair bit of change at the end of a World Cup cycle, but for England, this period is more turbulent than most. That’s largely because of the financial difficulties facing the Premiership right now.

Over the past year, three clubs have entered administration, which has resulted in an exodus of players from the league to overseas. A lot of English stars have begun eyeing pastures in France, and in the summer, a fair few made the bold decision to move to the Top 14.

Unfortunately for Steve Borthwick, a fair few of these players now are ineligible for international duty. However, some who moved overseas due to their club folding still can be picked for a limited period.

To let these men serve for the national team indefinitely, the RFU will either have to completely overhaul its eligibility rules – highly unlikely – or begin dishing out central contracts to players worth retaining.

Jack Willis 

Few Englishmen are as influential at the breakdown as Jack Willis. 

For years, the back-rower has cultivated a reputation as one of the best jacklers in rugby, consistently disrupting at the breakdown.

That, along with his ball-carrying solid skills, has propelled him into the England setup and is one of the central reasons Borthwick has picked Willis to start for England on multiple occasions.

If it weren’t for a neck injury, which prematurely ended his World Cup campaign, Willis likely would have started for England in the knockouts. 

To be in contention for such a spot is no mean feat and indicates how highly Borthwick rates the Toulouse forward.

Joe Marchant 

A year ago, if you heard that Joe Marchant was leaving Harlequins to join Stade Français, you wouldn’t think it would affect England much. However, in the last six months, the 27-year-old has become one of the most in-form English centers.

He arguably was more valuable than both Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi throughout the World Cup, working tirelessly both in attack and defense, to help give England the edge.

He even slotted into the back three at times to plug a hole when needed. That level of consistency and versatility is hugely valuable on the international stage.

In Marchant’s absence, you can expect Henry Slade to make his way back onto the team, but Borthwick no doubt would prefer to have two top-quality playmaking centers on offer, rather than just one.

Henry Arundell 

Ever since he became a household name following a world-class finish against Toulon in the Challenge Cup, Henry Arundell has demanded the attention of the rugby world.

There’s no disputing his raw mercurial energy and acceleration, which gives off more than just a hint of Jason Robinson. He showed that when he scored five tries for England in their thrashing of Chile in the World Cup.

It’s staggering to think then that Arundell may not be eligible for England in the near future. 

While he does have a grace period of a year where he’ll still be eligible for England – which was offered after his former club, London Irish, entered administration – he soon will lose that luxury, if he decides to stay at his new home in Paris with Racing 92.

Offering Arundell a central contract feels like a no-brainer for the RFU. To prove that point, the 21-year-old scored a hat trick on debut for Racing over the weekend.

Sam Simmonds

One player who's slowly drifted from the limelight is Sam Simmonds. 

The former Exeter Chiefs No. 8, now of Montpellier, was not so long ago considered one of the great rising stars in English rugby.

In the 2020-2021 Premiership season, Simmonds broke the record for the most tries in a single campaign, with 20, and deservedly won the Player of the Season award for his exploits.

While Eddie Jones refused to inculcate Simmonds into the England setup, Warren Gatland was more than happy to make the Chiefs back-rower a British & Irish Lion.

Simmonds’ form has admittedly dropped off since that high, but at Montpellier, he has the chance to start anew and replicate the path set by Zach Mercer, who revived his international reputation following a move to the same Top 14 side.

David Ribbans

Following the international retirement of Courtney Lawes, the number of men suited to play in the second row for England has decreased. 

While there’s still enough talent in that department to keep the team humming for the foreseeable future, with Maro Itoje, Ollie Chessum and George Martin all vying for a starting spot, the pool runs a little dry beneath that top tier.

That’s why the RFU could do with signing up David Ribbans, a physical yet skillful lock who is entering the peak years of his career. He was selected in Borthwick’s World Cup squad and has 11 international caps to date, but at present, he is illegible after making the move to Toulon in the summer.

Right now, England’s second-row core would be considerably strengthened with Ribbans included.