Rugby World Cup: England’s disjointed showing against Wales leaves questions ahead of squad announcement

We assess the big talking points facing England following their 20-9 defeat to Wales in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup warm-up Test in Cardiff; head coach Steve Borthwick names his squad for this year’s World Cup on Monday, with England facing Wales again at Twickenham on Saturday

        Rugby World Cup: England's disjointed showing against Wales leaves questions ahead of squad announcement

England’s players were left dejected after beginning their World Cup preparations with a defeat to Wales

England’s preparations for the 2023 Rugby World Cup got off to a bumpy start as they were beaten 20-9 by Wales in their opening Summer Nations Series match in Cardiff.

The loss at the Principality Stadium came just two days before head coach Steve Borthwick names his 33-player squad for next month’s global gathering, although he had previously insisted this game was not make or break in terms of being part of that.

Nevertheless, the nature of the defeat and the performance from England left questions for the team ahead of their opening World Cup pool match against Argentina on September 9, and we take a look at some of those talking points…

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Half-back combination fails to fire

With Owen Farrell watching on from the sidelines and Ben Youngs not included in the matchday 23, Saturday’s game in Cardiff offered Harlequins club-mates Marcus Smith and Danny Care a chance to show what they can do in the halves.

Sadly, while showing some bright patches in their individual performances, they were unable to replicate the sparkling partnership they have forged for Quins in the Gallagher Premiership, even with being able to link up with Joe Marchant and Alex Dombrandt as well.

With Care and Smith being withdrawn on 49 and 60 minutes respectively, England finished the game with Jack van Poortvliet at scrum-half and George Ford at fly-half, with the former having been Borthwick’s first-choice No 9 during this year’s Six Nations.

Even if Van Poortvliet remains in that position, the question remains as to whether Farrell will take over the No 10 shirt or slot back in at inside centre, with Smith at fly-half alongside the Leicester Tigers man.

        Rugby World Cup: England's disjointed showing against Wales leaves questions ahead of squad announcement

Marcus Smith did not quite fire in his half-back partnership with Danny Care

It is a conundrum England have faced for a while now and while there are people who will come down firmly on one side or the other, it seems like those charged with running the national team have still not found what they believe is the ideal solution.

Line-out woes will haunt Borthwick

In his playing days as a hard-nosed second-row, Borthwick was regarded as one of the finest line-out exponents of his era and his attention to detail in that area was part of the reason he became so highly regarded as a forwards coach after hanging up his boots.

So, England’s struggles in that area against Wales will have likely proven particularly frustrating for the head coach, with the visitors losing five of the 15 line-outs they had during the defeat to one of their oldest rivals. Comparatively, Wales won all seven of their line-outs.

Those issues will no doubt have concerned hooker Jamie Blamire, with the Newcastle Falcons man getting his first opportunity to play Test rugby since the Six Nations clash with Ireland in 2022 after being named in the starting XV.

        Rugby World Cup: England's disjointed showing against Wales leaves questions ahead of squad announcement

England endured some struggles in the line-out against Wales

Things did not improve when the previously-uncapped Theo Dan came off the replacements’ bench in the 55th minute either, although those issues were part of a wider malaise when it came to errors for England in this match.

Chances in attack go to waste

The final score-line may have read a rather one-sided 20-9 for the hosts, but in the first half England enjoyed the better of things, yet could not break through for a try when on top in the contest.

In fact, it was the first Test in over two-and-a-half years when England failed to score a try in a Test match, and that should be a concern.

Within the game, England spent four minutes and 30 seconds in possession within the Welsh 22, while Wales had just two minutes and 27 seconds in the English 22, yet scored two tries.

England registered some 12 entries into the Wales 22, but failed to score a try, while Wales scored twice from seven entries by comparison.

        Rugby World Cup: England's disjointed showing against Wales leaves questions ahead of squad announcement

England’s attack failed to execute in the first half, and was non-existent in the second

“Ultimately, there were a large number of handling errors and while our breakdown was good in terms of being against a team who jackal an awful lot, the handling errors cost us,” Borthwick said afterwards.

“We couldn’t sustain pressure because we turned the ball over.

“There are areas for us to work on and build on. Creating that number of entries into the opposition 22 will be a step forward from where we were, and all we’ve got to do is convert those opportunities.”

Such a wealth of time spent in the opposition 22 for no reward, in a Test in which they were facing a side on their knees in terms of confidence and form – Wales avoided a fifth home defeat in succession with this result, remember – is a very disappointing way to begin their World Cup preparations.

A missed opportunity for fringe players?

England went fairly strong for this Test in terms of team selection, but with Borthwick announcing his 33-player squad for the World Cup on Monday, this was the one and only chance players had to stick their hand up for inclusion.

While the likes of Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Smith and Ellis Genge already have place tickets booked, several others may yet have possible slots cancelled.

Centre Guy Porter – who was anonymous – wing Joe Cokanasiga – who made several errors with ball in hand and in defence – and hooker Blamire – who really struggled at the set-piece and was guilty of giving away penalties – will now surely not be involved in the final World Cup selection.

        Rugby World Cup: England's disjointed showing against Wales leaves questions ahead of squad announcement

Wing Joe Cokanasiga is one of a number of players whose performance will likely see them miss out on a squad place

Marchant performed strongly, but Care was hot and cold at scrum-half and is another whose place could be in jeopardy.

“This game is one piece of information to help build a full picture [for selecting England’s World Cup squad], and I’ll make the decision in the next 24 hours,” Borthwick said.

“From my point of view, I’m looking forward to announcing the squad on Monday and really looking forward to the Test match against Wales at Twickenham next Saturday.”