The start of a new Rugby World Cup cycle brings fresh opportunities for some of England rugby’s brightest young talents. Seven uncapped players have been included in Steve Borthwick’s 36-man squad for the Six Nations, with the head coach hoping to build on the strong foundations put in place during the World Cup campaign.
Borthwick talked up the positive impact of a more competitive Premiership at his squad unveiling, and the development of Northampton Saints and Exeter into possible title contenders is reflected in the inclusion of some of their standout individuals across the season so far.
With an opening fixture against Italy in Rome, a number could press for immediate selection, particularly with England seeking new starters on the wing and in the back row.
Meet the seven new names to know ahead of the tournament.
Fin Smith – fly half, Northampton Saints
The 21-year-old playmaker Fin Smith was part of England’s squad for last year’s Six Nations but has taken his game to another level this season. The former Worcester fly half has orchestrated Northampton’s rise to the top of the Premiership table, with a clever variety to his passing game. Steve Borthwick is understood to have been impressed by his development as an all-round fly half, with the England coach picking out Saints’ improvements in their kicking game at his squad unveiling.
Smith, who was also on Scotland’s radar, remains behind George Ford and Marcus Smith in the pecking order but is likely to feature in the England A game against Portugal and could well press for a first full cap, too.
Fraser Dingwall – centre, Northampton Saints
It is now four years since Fraser Dingwall first earned inclusion in a Six Nations squad, but this feels like it might finally be the 24-year-old’s time. A beautifully balanced centre who can play at both 12 and 13, Dingwall has long been noted as an intuitive defender, while his leadership skills are also valuable – the Northampton back captained Scotland at under-18 level before leading England as an under-20.
What Borthwick said: “When you stand back and watch Northampton, the players turn to him. He’s a key leader in that team. He is able to distribute but also be really strong in carry and defence.”
Tom Roebuck – wing, Sale Sharks
The third of England’s potential first-cappers who could also have been pulling on a Scotland shirt, Inverness-born Tom Roebuck has developed nicely at Sale in a young back three alongside Arron Reed (who has accepted a Scotland call-up) and Joe Carpenter. Roebuck has size and speed, and is also a solid operator under the high ball.
What Borthwick said: “We spoke last year, prior to the World Cup. I was impressed with what he was doing and I think my words at that point in time were that right now, there are other wingers that I’m rating highly but I think there’ll be more opportunities immediately post-World Cup. It’s immense credit to Tom in how he’s gone about his game in working hard and trying to develop. He said he wants to play for England and is determined to play for England. I was delighted by that. He’s a big, powerful winger, really bubbly, vibrant personality. I want those characters in the team.”
Ethan Roots – back row, Exeter Chiefs
Ethan Roots wasn’t necessarily on the radar of many before Steve Borthwick revealed earlier this month that the former Ospreys back row was English-qualified. A former teenage jiu-jitsu champion in his native New Zealand and teak-tough, Roots does plenty of unseen work, fulfilling the duties of the departed Dave Ewers at Exeter but with extra physical potential.
What Borthwick said: “I remember coaching against the Ospreys in Europe, and saw this player and thought ‘he’s a really good player’. Then we were in Le Touquet [during the World Cup] and I was walking through the dining room and saw Richard Hill at his computer watching the Premiership Rugby Cup games. He pulled me over and said, ‘Come and watch this player for the next two minutes.’ I watched him with Hilly, and it was outstanding – the work rate, physicality he brought to it. Hilly said to me there ‘track this guy’. If Richard Hill tells me to track a back-row forward, I’m listening.”
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso – wing, Exeter Chiefs
Another key figure in Exeter’s resurgence, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s slippery ability with the ball in hand, defensive effort and genuine X-factor make him an exciting talent. Once of Cardiff and Wasps, Feyi-Waboso has chosen England over Wales, where he was born, partly out of a desire to pursue a medical degree at Exeter University, where he is firmly committed to his studies.
What Borthwick said: “Manny Feyi-Waboso has earned this selection. We can all see the power he brings, the speed he brings. He finds a way through contact when there doesn’t appear to be a way through there. He’s a really mature guy. With his medical studies and then to go through what he went through at Wasps, moving down to Exeter, restarting from a rugby perspective and restarting from a studies perspective, there is a real sense of maturity with a young man.”
Chandler Cunningham-South – back row, Harlequins
Chandler Cunningham-South, like Roots, spent his childhood in New Zealand after his family emigrated when he was four. He returned to the United Kingdom in early 2022 and quickly made waves both with London Irish’s academy and England’s U20s.
A natural No eight but capable of covering six and lock, Cunningham-South offers a real point of difference as a ball carrier, with size, height and brutality in the contact area understandably desirable to the England set-up. Still a work in progress, the 20-year-old relocated to Harlequins after London Irish’s suspension from the Premiership.
Oscar Beard – centre/wing, Harlequins
Perhaps the biggest surprise in England’s squad, Oscar Beard nonetheless profiles as the sort of player who could go on to be valuable internationally. He fits the mould of former Harlequins teammate Joe Marchant, able to flit between centre and wing and provide sharpness at either position.
With the arrival of the new defence coach Felix Jones from South Africa’s staff, Beard could fit nicely as an edge defender in a system expected to resemble the Springboks’ blitz defence.
What Borthwick said: “I think he’s got the ability to play in multiple positions – that’s really important to have in a squad. He’s very detailed, organised and ambitious. I’ve had two meetings with him where we’ve talked tactically and my sense is he picks information up really fast. He’s very smart.”
Who else is in contention?
Borthwick name-checked Bath’s Max Ojomoh and Lennox Anyanwu of Harlequins as two more centres who were close to making the squad. The pair are both best suited to inside centre, with Ojomoh’s distribution impressive and Anyanwu filling in well for Andre Esterhuizen at times this season.
Fin Baxter, meanwhile, is on standby in case Joe Marler or Ellis Genge suffer a setback in their recoveries from injury – Baxter is rated highly by teammate Marler.
Back-row star Alfie Barbeary, meanwhile, was left out partly due to an impending ban after two separate incidents in Bath’s Champions Cup win over Racing 92 resulted in disciplinary hearings. Borthwick believes that he will feature in the England team “in the near future”.