England’s mounting list of unavailable players is a problem for Steve Borthwick

George Ford roars in celebration

Sunday’s announcement by England that George Ford had been ruled out of the tour of Japan and New Zealand with an Achilles issue prompted two reactions. Firstly it sets up a fascinating battle for the England No 10 shirt this summer between the two Smiths, Marcus and Fin, with the latter coming off a first Premiership title win at the age of 22.

But what Ford’s absence also underlined is that even for a first summer after a Rugby World Cup, which is usually chaotic anyway in terms of personnel turnover, the amount of talent that England will be without this year either through injury, ineligibility or international retirement is high.

High enough, in fact, that you can quickly cobble together an entire XV of missing players who might have been part of the touring squad had they been available.

Henry Arundell at full-back is an obvious place to start, playing for Racing 92 in the Top 14. Even if England were selecting players based in France there would be a debate to be had over whether Arundell would realistically be called up, given the Top 14 final is not until June 28 (with Racing currently sixth). For now it is a moot point, although Arundell has notably scored 10 tries in 19 matches since the World Cup.

Harry Arundell playing for Racing 92
Henry Arundell has impressed since joining Racing 92 - Shutterstock/David Winter

Jack Nowell and Joe Marchant are two more options in France and unavailable. Nowell’s longevity makes you forget he is only 31, and he has scored three tries in his last three matches for La Rochelle, not that he has been capped by England since Steve Borthwick took over. Marchant meanwhile feels like England’s big miss given their lack of depth in midfield.

While it is fairly clear that Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell have come to the end of their time with England, neither have retired from Test rugby, although Tuilagi pulled his hamstring last month against Saracens so might not have toured anyway. Elliot Daly, still a regular with four starts in the Six Nations, is staying home ahead of the birth of his child.

Ford’s injury is ill-timed, having been excellent in Sale’s semi-final defeat at Bath, and the first-choice against Ireland and France even after Marcus Smith’s return. Scrum-half is actually a position of strength, and while Danny Care has recently retired from Tests, he also is not slowing down.

Ellis Genge is a huge absentee at loosehead, even if it opens the door for Fin Baxter to gain experience, while at hooker Curtis Langdon was in top form at the end of the season for Northampton Saints, only to suffer a shoulder injury in the final against Bath which has now ruled him out of the tour. Kyle Sinckler has rapidly dropped out of Test contention since the World Cup and is now off to France, and it barely seems that long since he won three caps for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa.

Ellis Genge runs with the ball during the Summer International match between England and Wales at Twickenham on August 12, 2023
Ellis Genge is likely to be sorely missed by England - Getty Images/David Rogers

Ollie Chessum’s injury at lock has disrupted England’s pack after they finished the Six Nations in strong form, while David Ribbans, part of the Rugby World Cup squad, would have been a contender to make the squad in Chessum’s absence. Ribbans is now in France with Toulon.

Finally in the back row, you can’t forget Courtney Lawes, whose form since retiring from Test rugby has been excellent for Northampton. Lawes admitted after the Premiership final that he is still keen to represent the British and Irish Lions next summer. Jack Willis was simply sensational for Toulouse in their Champions Cup final win and will be hoping to add another Top 14 title to his CV later this month. And a No 8?

Billy Vunipola and Lewis Ludlam, who are both off to France next season, would both fit in there as well.

How many of those players would be definite England starters? Ford, Genge, Chessum and perhaps Lawes, Willis, Farrell, Marchant and Daly. Which feels like a lot of missing talent ahead of a first trip to New Zealand in a decade.

England’s unavailable XV

15 Henry Arundell (ineligible) 
14 Jack Nowell (ineligible)
13 Joe Marchant (ineligible)
12 Owen Farrell (ineligible) or Manu Tuilagi (ineligible)
11 Elliot Daly (unavailable)
10 George Ford (injured)
9 Danny Care (retired from Tests)
1 Ellis Genge (injured)
2 Curtis Langdon (injured)
3 Kyle Sinckler (ineligible)
4 Ollie Chessum (injured)
5 David Ribbans (ineligible)
6 Courtney Lawes (retired from Tests)
7 Jack Willis (ineligible)
8 Billy Vunipola (ineligible) or Lewis Ludlam (ineligible)

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