Steve Borthwick will name his 33-player squad for the Rugby World Cup on Aug 7, with as many as 70 names on a longlist of those who have been told to remain available and fit.
Until then, however, there will be various training camps – both at home and abroad – as Borthwick attempts to get his squad into shape for global rugby’s showpiece in France this autumn.
Over a fortnight, one unit at a time, Telegraph Sport is breaking down the depth that the England head coach has at his disposal in each position. So far in our six-part series, we have examined the front row, locks, back row and half-backs. Now is is the turn of the centres.
A perennial area of uncertainty for England has not become much clearer since 2019; or indeed over the early months of Borthwick’s tenure. And we might as well begin with the elephant in the room. Owen Farrell will be an option at inside centre, even if a major priority should be building around him at fly-half.
Dan Kelly, a tough ball-player familiar to Borthwick and defence coach Kevin Sinfield, seemed set on a return to the Test fold during the Six Nations before being scuppered by injury. This summer it will be worth seeing if he can dovetail with Farrell as well as Nick Tompkins has done for Saracens. The 21-year-old is also a former club colleague – and a close friend – of George Ford and won his sole England cap next to Marcus Smith two years ago.
As a specialist No 12, capable of distributing from first-receiver and punching holes, Kelly could nudge Ollie Lawrence to the outside centre role. The latter, a resounding success story of England’s mixed Six Nations, seems at his most effective beyond two passers with a bit more room.
Manu Tuilagi’s form for Sale Sharks over the Premiership play-offs, as well as his experience and tangibly reassuring aura among team-mates, all put him in a strong position. Despite an underwhelming Six Nations, Henry Slade would add know-how, versatility and a left-footed kicking option.
That said, the flinty Alex Lozowski is thought to be in contention on the back of another strong campaign with Saracens, and Joe Marchant covers wing as well as a midfield spot. Guy Porter is similarly multi-faceted and well known to the former Leicester Tigers coaches. Seb Atkinson and Max Ojomoh, two young inside centres, can kick on next season for Gloucester and Bath, respectively.
Also included in the list above are Fraser Dingwall, a mainstay for free-flowing Northampton Saints, and Sam James, of Sale Sharks. Elliot Daly will be discussed later on in this series. While clearly comfortable at centre, he has been used there sparingly over his Test career to date.
Picking a quartet of Tuilagi, Lawrence, Slade and Kelly would offer a multitude of possible combinations when one also factors in Farrell as a potential inside centre alongside either Ford or Marcus Smith. Clarity is crucial for England, but the ability to change up a back line within a match is always useful.
Lozowski, he of five caps earned under Eddie Jones between 2017-18 before his Test career was abruptly halted in the wake of the “black hole game” against Japan, deserves a chance to upset that order, and perhaps to displace Slade, with a start in a warm-up match.
Charlie Morgan’s four centres for the World Cup: Manu Tuilagi, Ollie Lawrence, Henry Slade, Dan Kelly