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Thursday Aug 24, 2023

Freddie Steward in centres as Clive Woodward picks his England lineup

Clive Woodward was once revered as the greatest coach in world rugby after masterminding an incredibly talented England side to World Cup victory back in 2003.

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Since the time he reached the stratosphere of international rugby coaching, his calling has turned to punditry where his divisive views have ruffled the feathers of many international coaches and players along the way.

Well, he’s been ruffling some more feathers with his recent thoughts on an England squad selection, one that appears at the face of it to provide England fans with the much-desired running game that Steve Borthwick has yet to ignite in his squad.

Calling for Borthwick to “rip up” his squad and “start again”, Woodward has decided it’s time to reignite the fires within the national squad and focus on the clear attacking talents that currently appear to be stifled.

“England should rip up their World Cup squad and start again” claimed Woodward. “World Rugby rules permit a coach to take out players and bring new ones in up until August 28. Steve Borthwick should do exactly that.

“It would be harsh to tell players who were expecting to go that they are no longer travelling to France. But as a head coach, you must make tough calls. And let’s be fair, the players haven’t set the world alight in the two games with Wales and defeat by Ireland. The message should be clear: ‘Sorry, but you have had your chance.’

“England must throw caution to the wind as they are in a real corner now. World Cups are not about development. They are about winning. Nothing else matters… Sometimes, you have to tear up your plans. Borthwick has to react to ensure England are in the best possible place to beat Argentina and Japan.”

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The former England coach has selected some surprise players in his team for the match against Fiji this weekend, alongside a rather radical position change or two.

The backline sees England legend Anthony Watson moved from the wing to the familiar position of fullback for which he played much of his career at Bath.

“Steward is a great defensive full back but England need a running threat there which is why I would play Anthony Watson” explained Woodward.

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This would leave the dominant 6 ft 6 in Freddie Steward with a new position to choose from, one that has, it appears, already been chosen for him.

“For too long England’s midfield thinking has been dominated by Manu Tuilagi.

“We need to get creative. Steward is strong defensively and he would do well in midfield. New Zealand switched Jordie Barrett from 15 to 12 through necessity rather than by design and it has worked a treat.”

Recalling the controversially released Henry Slade is a key point in Woodward’s new England side. “Against Fiji, I’d play Steward and Henry Slade at centre.

“It was a big call to leave out Slade in the first place but the paucity of the side’s backline displays in the last three weeks has shown England badly miss his footballing ability.”

Looking to add out and out pace and excitement on the wings, the 67-year-old has elected to go with the rarely utilised Adam Radwan, as well as the up and coming superstar Racing 92 player, Henry Arundell. The halfback combination of Marcus Smith and Alex Mitchell adds to his youthful set up full of players that have not yet learnt the bad habits of England sides of the past.

“If England bring in a host of new players for this weekend and it doesn’t work, then they haven’t lost anything. They can still revert to the current crop and double down” he added.

BAGSHOT, ENGLAND – JULY 31: Marcus Smith of England looks on during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on July 31, 2023 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The forward pack, while not given quite as much of a makeover, still exudes an exciting and refurbished look about it.

Swapping Vunipola with Mercer, Woodward was keen to prioritise form over experience.

“Given his ban, Vunipola should not go to the World Cup. He is not the player of four years ago. Zach Mercer would bring some much-needed pace to the team. Vunipola can rejoin the squad if there are injuries in France, which is almost a given.”

The introduction of Theo Dan is a big stand out inclusion, with the likes of Luke Cowan Dickie out injured, Jamie George is his main competition for the shirt. The choice to embed a young hooker with just a couple of caps to his name heading into the worlds biggest competition is a huge statement.

Woodward’s England side to face Fiji on Saturday:

Anthony Watson; Adam Radwan, Henry Slade, Freddie Steward, Henry Arundell; Marcus Smith, Alex Mitchell; Ellis Genge, Theo Dan, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes (capt), Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Zach Mercer

Read Woodward’s full column on the Mail Online.

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