England welcome return of Arundell and Slade

Continued absence of Courtney Lawes deprives side of calming influence for Italy fixture

Henry Arundell and Henry Slade have made welcome returns to the England squad preparing to face Italy this weekend with Steve Borthwick seeking to kickstart his side’s Six Nations campaign. Arundell and Slade are back from foot and hip injuries respectively and come into the frame to add considerable zip to Borthwick’s side on Sunday.

Courtney Lawes is not under consideration to face Italy, however, as he continues his rehab from a calf problem but the availability of Slade and Arundell is a significant boost for Borthwick following England’s defeat by Scotland last Saturday.

Arundell made his comeback from the bench for London Irish against Harlequins at the end of last month and though he has just half an hour’s rugby under his belt in more than three months, Borthwick has seen fit to include him to England’s 36-man squad in Bagshot. The 20-year-old made three cameo appearances on the summer tour of Australia, scoring a dazzling try on his debut, and would make his first England outing at Twickenham if selected. Cadan Murley misses out on the squad as a result.

Slade’s inclusion, meanwhile, raises the key question as to whether Borthwick sticks by the 10-12 axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell. Slade is adept at either inside or outside centre and though Borthwick could select all three, picking the Exeter man to start could allow Borthwick to back either Smith or Farrell at outhalf with the other offering cover from the bench. Guy Porter makes way from the squad and Dan Kelly is still out with a thigh problem while Borthwick has not called on George Ford, who made his belated debut for Sale last week.


Lawes’ ongoing absence is a blow for Borthwick not least with England erratic in defence against Scotland. The 33-year-old would have been a calming influence on a forwards pack that was lacking in composure, if no little effort, but though he is in camp, he will not come into contention to face an Italy side who gave France an almighty scare on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Borthwick has stuck by the same wider squad as last week with Jack Willis again included after another impressive performance for Toulouse on Saturday. Last week his Toulouse commitments counted against him but with England having an extra day’s preparation this week and with neither Ben Curry nor Alex Dombrandt covering themselves in glory against Scotland, Willis could feature in a back-row shake-up.