‘What I’ve seen is an INCREDIBLE player – it’s the right time for him to start’: Steve Borthwick is convinced Henry Arundell can rise to the occasion and show his X-factor class against Ireland as the 20-year-old prepares to face the world’s No 1 team
- Henry Arundell has been promoted to first-choice XV on the wing against Ireland
- The 20-year-old prodigy has only won six England caps as a replacement so far
- Steve Borthwick is adamant he can cope with being thrown in at the deep end
Steve Borthwick is adamant that Henry Arundell can cope with being thrown in at the deep end for a first England start against the world’s No 1 team – and that he will have chances to show his X-factor class.
The London Irish prodigy, 20, has been promoted to the first-choice XV on the wing.
He has won six caps so far, all as a replacement. He missed the autumn series with a foot injury, but made cameos in England’s last three Six Nations games. Now, he has been entrusted with a starting role against Grand Slam-chasing Ireland.
Borthwick downplayed the danger of pitching Arundell into such a high-stakes occasion and the concern of England fans that he may end up a peripheral figure.
‘Yes he’s a young man, but we’ve all seen what capabilities he has and my experience of him is he’s really calm and composed,’ said the head coach. ‘For a man of his age, that is rare.
Steve Borthwick (right) is adamant that Henry Arundell (left) is ready to step up for England
Arundell has only earned six caps for England so far, with all of them coming as replacements
‘I’ve made it clear I will pick players based on their strengths. What I’ve seen in the last month or two is an incredible player. He has had the time in training to build combinations with the players around him and he’s had time off the bench – now I think it’s the right time for him to start.
‘Ultimately, we want him to get the ball in his hands; to show and express what talent he has. What is exciting, when I look at this team, is the number of quality outside backs. Our intention, as we try to continue to develop our game, is that they have some quality ball to play with.’
Initially, it was feared Arundell would miss this entire Championship. However, he recovered sooner than expected and was fast-tracked back into the squad.
When he made his first appearance for the national team at Twickenham last month, he marked the occasion with a try. It was another early-career landmark, after he touched down on his England debut last summer.
It was actually his very first touch at international level which yielded a try, to increase the hype around this dazzling breakthrough star.
Having been sent on by Eddie Jones in the closing stages of the series opener against Australia in Perth, Arundell stunned the opposition by cutting inside, blasting between two tacklers and accelerating clear.
Last season, while still a teenager, footage of Arundell’s feats went viral on social media as he ran amok for England’s Under 20s in the junior Six Nations. Soon after, the fanfare grew louder when he took a pass on his own line during a European fixture at Toulon and slalomed through the home team to score a stunning, length-of-the-field wonder try.
Jones couldn’t resist inviting him into the senior squad after Arundell had made just six appearances for Irish.
When England travelled Down Under, he was regarded as an ‘apprentice’ – selected to gain experience of the Test environment. Instead, he caused mayhem with long-range tries in training and a series of Red Rose players revealed a mood of shock and awe in the ranks, about the rookie’s remarkable exploits behind the scenes.
Ireland are bound to target the 20-year-old London Irish prodigy in Saturday’s crunch match
Now, Borthwick has made a bold decision to start him at a difficult time. Ireland are bound to target him, to see how he copes in defence and under the high ball. If they kick loosely to him in space, they could pay dearly, given his electric pace, footwork and prolific finishing. And if his team-mates can get the ball out to him, he can wreak havoc.
But those are big ‘ifs’. There is an uncomfortable sense that the visitors could be horribly out of their depth at the Aviva – and all who care about the future health of the English game will hope that Arundell is not scarred by a brutal ordeal, at a formative stage of his burgeoning career.
Owen Farrell has reclaimed the England No 10 shirt and will lead the side, with Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade outside him – the same combination that blew Ireland away in Dublin in 2019. Marcus Smith drops to the bench. Northampton lock David Ribbans has been chosen to start in the second row, to fill the void left by the injured Ollie Chessum.
Two players who struggled in the record 53-10 rout at the hands of France last weekend have earned a reprieve. Alex Dombrandt is retained at No 8 in the absence of specialist alternatives – and because Chessum’s injury deprived Borthwick of the option of switching him to blindside and Lewis Ludlam to the base of the scrum. Jack van Poortvliet is another who has been given the benefit of the doubt despite a glaring loss of form.
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