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England plan to breach Maro Itoje game-time limit after Borthwick names him in 36-man squad

Maro Itoje – England plan to breach Maro Itoje playing-time limit after Borthwick names him in 36-man squad
Maro Itoje is only 95 minutes away from breaking a game-limit agreement - Getty Images/Patrick Khachfe

England head coach Steve Borthwick dismissed player welfare concerns by picking both Maro Itoje and Tom Curry in his 36-man squad to tour Japan and New Zealand.

As Telegraph Sport has previously reported, Saracens second row Itoje is in line to break the game-limit regulations by going on the tour while at the opposite end of the spectrum Sale flanker Curry has been selected despite playing just 34 minutes of rugby since last year’s World Cup.

Elsewhere winger Ollie Sleightholme, full-back Joe Carpenter and hooker Gabriel Oghre are among six uncapped players in the squad with Fin Baxter, Luke Northmore, and Tom Roebuck also included.

Northampton have the biggest representation with seven players, including six backs, and Borthwick acknowledged that “cohesion” will be an important factor. That could benefit Fin Smith in his fly-half battle with Marcus Smith given his ready made partnership with scrum-half Alex Mitchell. The two Smiths are the only specialist fly-halves in the squad after George Ford was withdrawn with an achilles injury.

However, there were also a number of notable omissions from the Premiership final in which Northampton triumphed 25-21 over Bath. Flanker Ted Hill, No 8 Alfie Barbeary and wing Will Muir miss out for Bath while the Northampton trio of prop Trevor Davison, flanker Tom Pearson and hooker Curtis Langdon, who suffered a suspected shoulder injury, will also not make the trip.

The selection of Itoje is controversial as the second row is technically only permitted to play 102 minutes before he exceeds the 2,400 minute game limit that was agreed between the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and Rugby Players’ Association in 2018. As Christian Day, the general secretary of the RPA, said of the prospect of Itoje exceeding the 30 full game equivalents, “these are the league’s crown jewels and you are putting them at risk.”

However, Borthwick intimated that he was relaxed with Itoje, who he described as a “key leader”, breaking the limit on the tour that begins against Japan on June 22 before back-to-back Tests against New Zealand on July 6 and 13. As mitigation, Itoje will not be allowed to play in any of Saracens’ preseason games during his ten-week off season.

“We’ll find the best way to manage each individual,” Borthwick said. “Clearly game minutes and game involvements are a couple of measures. There’s also the factors around training volumes and training loads, the recovery periods that players are having. Most importantly is the conversation with the player themselves.

“I think another factor is considering what the players have post this series. Where someone like Maro Itoje has that 10-week period where he will not be able to be involved in any pre-season games at club level.

“So, I think managing all of the different factors rather than just concentrating on our game limit. Because we talk about Maro Itoje in particular, he’s a player who’s similar to Tom Curry. ‘I want to play, I’m desperate to play’. He’s a key leader for us, he’s an exceptional player and he wants to be a part of this team in this series.”

Curry has not featured for England since last year’s World Cup after a gruelling rehabilitation from a hip injury, the damage of which was compared to a “car crash” and only made his comeback in Sale’s Premiership semi-final defeat to Bath on June 1.

England's Tom Curry (right) and Ben Curr
Tom Curry (right) has played just 34 minutes of rugby since the World Cup – but has been named in Steve Borthwick's summer touring squad - PA/Adam Davy

Alex Sanderson, the Sale Sharks director of rugby, issued an explicit warning that taking Curry to New Zealand would shorten the 25-year-old flanker’s international career. “I know he wants to play for England but you have to understand he’s got a limited shelf life,” Sanderson said. “When do you want to play those international games? Whenever he plays in this off-season will take away games from the back end of his career, guaranteed.”

However, Borthwick again placed his faith in Curry’s wish to be involved as well as a glowing medical reports from England’s physios. “Firstly, Tom is a world-class player,” Borthwick said. “Anybody who watched the semi-final when he came off the bench and played that last 35 minutes of the game will have seen the impact he had.

“The respective medical and strength and conditioning with Sale and England have been liaising around Tom for a long period, as you would expect. Every report I have says Tom is in fantastic physical condition. I saw last week how energised he was.

“Most importantly was the conversation I had with Tom. We spoke about this series and this is a player who is desperate to be a part of this England team and wants to play in these games. Because of that and the fact he’s world class, it was a very straightforward decision.”

Looking ahead to the opening match against Eddie Jones’ Japan, Borthwick says that assistant coach Felix Jones has built an “encyclopaedia” on every Japanese player. While Borthwick anticipates catching up with Jones, whom he worked for as an assistant coach for eight years, he is wary of engaging in any mind games.

“One thing I think that’s improving with this team is the ability to focus on ourselves and what we’re doing,” Borthwick said. “There is always discussion about us as an England rugby team. What I’m saying to the players is focus on what we’re doing as a team and what we can control.

“We expect a talented, fast Japanese team. They have gone on record talking about how fast they wish to play so there is a great tactical challenge there in these conditions.”

England name summer touring squad: As it happened . . .


01:42 PM BST

More from Borthwick

Picking Tom Curry

Tom’s a world-class player. Anyone watching that [Premiership] semi-final will have seen the impact he had. The respective medical teams have been liaising around Tom for a long period and every report has spoken about the condition he has been in. It was a very straightforward decision. Player welfare is vital and medics tell me that Tom is in fantastic condition.

Borthwick stresses that “no concerns” were raised by Sale and that Tom Curry himself was “energised” and made it clear that he wanted to go.

Debutants

Tom Roebuck was part of that Six Nations squad and was chomping at the bit. He was disappointed not to play but so eager to perform at training. I think his game has taken another step forward after the Six Nations.

Ollie Sleightholme’s point of difference is clearly beating defenders and finding the way to the try-line. He has exceptional pace, and we want that in our team. I’ve spoken to him several times throughout the season. He’s beaten plenty of defenders but, another thing, is that he’s an excellent defender. Our defensive system is important to us and we see him fitting into that very well.


01:39 PM BST

Here’s some Steve Borthwick from the press conference

General thoughts on squad

I think the squad has that mix of experienced internationals and bringing through the new players into the international environment. The senior players have been excellent at supporting those players during the camps.

Fly-halves

We’ve picked two specialist fly-halves, in Marcus and Fin, who are world class, and then players who can support those two in George Furbank and Henry Slade. We’re obviously disappointed that George is unavailable. We expect him to be fit for the start of next season. Any injury is an opportunity for another player and we want Fin and Marcus to seize that opportunity by playing winning rugby.

We’ve seen the progression of Fin with consistent performances. In tough environments, he’s performed. I think he’s been excellent. Marcus is a seasoned international now, so to have two players like that at our disposal is terrific.


01:13 PM BST

A word on some of the players to miss out

England said they would use the recent training camps at Pennyhill Park as experience for younger players, which is why there’s no sign of forwards Rusi Tuima and Greg Fisilau from Exeter.

Jack van Poortvliet is a minor surprise but the competition at scrum-half was tight and Harry Randall’s speed at scrum-half can certainly help England’s attack.

Langdon, as mentioned earlier, seemed to pick up a shoulder injury in the Premiership final which might have ended his hopes of touring.


12:50 PM BST

Fin Baxter, England’s next loosehead?

Beno Obano’s red card in the final was ill-timed, given his form meant he might have toured, but this summer was always about the development of Fin Baxter, Harlequins’ young loosehead who impressed in the big Champions Cup games. There’s a nice parallel with Baxter being called up ahead of a debut the summer after the 2023 Rugby World Cup, just as his mentor at Harlequins, Joe Marler, made his debut back in 2012 in South Africa after the 2011 tournament.


12:38 PM BST

Freeman might be England’s most important back

He had loads of good moments in the final, scoring early but also excellent in the air and coming up with defensive stops. Here’s Charlie Morgan with some analysis on what Freeman can give England this summer.

England will inevitably find themselves stretched by the All Blacks. Freeman’s athleticism and anticipation will be put to good use.


12:33 PM BST

Club-by-club breakdown

Northampton Saints - 7
Harlequins - 6
Bath - 5
Sale Sharks - 5
Leicester Tigers - 4
Saracens - 4
Exeter Chiefs - 3
Bristol - 2

(Which means no players for Gloucester or Newcastle Falcons)


12:31 PM BST

Here’s Steve Borthwick

The Summer Series presents a valuable opportunity for the continued development of this squad and is a demanding challenge to conclude the season

For some of the younger players, it will be their first time touring abroad with England. Travelling together is a great way to build closer bonds and provides an important opportunity for new players to settle into our environment.

With the changes in climate, playing conditions, and contrasting styles of rugby from the two opponents we face, we will be challenged on and off the field.

The National Stadium in Tokyo is an incredible venue for Test match rugby, and we will need to be at our very best against a Japanese team who will want to play fast.

New Zealand’s home record is well documented, and we face a team who came within one point of winning a World Cup.

Historically it is not a place England have had much success, but we are determined to change that. The players know that they will need to be mentally strong and tactically smart if we are to get the result we want.


12:30 PM BST

England’s 36-player squad for their summer tour of Japan and New Zealand

Forwards:

Fin Baxter (Harlequins, uncapped)

Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 112 caps)

Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, 5 caps)

Chandler Cunningham-South (Harlequins, 4 caps)

Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, 5 caps)

Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 50 caps)

Theo Dan (Saracens, 12 caps)

Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 17 caps)

Ben Earl (Saracens, 30 caps)

Charlie Ewels (Bath, 30 caps)

Jamie George (Saracens, 90 caps) – captain

Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 7 caps)

Maro Itoje (Saracens, 81 caps)

Joe Marler (Harlequins, 93 caps)

George Martin (Leicester Tigers, 12 caps)

Gabriel Oghre (Bristol Bears, uncapped)

Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 5 caps)

Ethan Roots (Exeter Chiefs, 4 caps)

Will Stuart (Bath, 38 caps)

Sam Underhill (Bath, 35 caps)

Backs:

Joe Carpenter (Sale Sharks, uncapped)

Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Exeter Chiefs, 3 caps)

Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 8 caps)

George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 9 caps)

Ollie Lawrence (Bath, 24 caps)

Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 15 caps)

Luke Northmore (Harlequins, uncapped)

Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, 6 caps)

Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks, uncapped)

Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 62 caps)

Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints, uncapped)

Fin Smith (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)

Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 32 caps)

Ben Spencer (Bath, 5 caps)

Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 33 caps)


12:27 PM BST

Couple of minutes to go

I’ve seen the list, and can tell you [redacted].


12:21 PM BST

Many scrum-halves but only three spots

I spoke to Danny Care last week about England’s scrum-half options, which include Alex Mitchell, Harry Randall, Ben Spencer, Jack van Poortvliet and Raffi Quirke. Only three can tour.

Incidentally, thought Mitchell was surprisingly off his game in the final, which was a credit to Bath’s breakdown pressure. Here’s Care:

Alex is the tempo for that Northampton team. His super skill is speed of ball, getting the ball away quickly, but I think he’s the best attacking No 9 in terms of manipulating defenders around the fringes of the ruck, bringing people out to create space for others with his snakey hips. The ball movement with his hands is incredible, his ability to offload as well. He creates one-on-ones for himself which means he can release the ball to others.


12:17 PM BST

Fin Smith, England’s No 10?

Fresh from winning the Premiership on Saturday the 22-year-old spoke about what’s next for him this summer.

We have an individual development plan and mine was to win the league with Saints and get an England cap. I have now done both of those things. When you play in these games you hope you then put your hand up and get an opportunity. It is hard to think about now, I would love to play No 10 for England but being involved in the first thing and winning today wasn’t bad.

Lovely footage of Smith with his family at Twickenham during the celebrations.


12:13 PM BST

Two Currys on tour?

There’s a strong chance. Both Tom and Ben were in training with England last week, with Tom recently back from a major hip injury and Ben captaining Sale in their run to the semi-finals.

Here’s Charles Richardson on why despite only playing one game since the World Cup, Tom Curry should tour.


12:08 PM BST

Latest news

Here’s the Sunday update on who we expect to be in the squad.


12:00 PM BST

Welcome

Morning everyone and yes, your calendar’s are correct, it is England squad announcement day. Always a highlight to finish the season, mainly because with his team about to fly off to Japan in a couple of days’ time Steve Borthwick actually gets to see who is fully fit and available only a couple of days removed from the Gallagher Premiership final (congratulations to Northampton and their #shoearmy).

The news on Sunday that George Ford will not tour is a blow, given his experience in what is naturally a bit of a younger England group following the Rugby World Cup combined with some unfortunate injuries to Ford and also Ellis Genge, the loosehead prop and vice-captain. Ollie Chessum is another injury which England could do without, particularly after they appeared to settle on an excellent formula towards the back end of the Six Nations with Maro Itoje, George Martin and Chessum playing well against Ireland and France. It should also be noted that Elliot Daly is not available, missing the tour to stay at home for the birth of his child.

However, there are lots of exciting options in this group, especially the Northampton contingent. Whispers on Sunday suggest that the Premiership’s top try scorer Ollie Sleightholme, who is uncapped, could join fellow Northampton backs George Furbank, Tommy Freeman, Fraser Dingwall, Fin Smith and Alex Mitchell in the summer squad - so almost a full set.

Then there is Joe Carpenter, the young Sale full-back who caught the eye against Bath in the Premiership semi-final a couple of weeks ago. One player who might not make it however is Northampton’s Curtis Langdon, the form hooker in the last month, who Telegraph Sport understands has been dealing with a shoulder injury after going off in the Premiership final which, per one source, was “not looking great”.

Still, all will be revealed shortly. Stick around.

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