Jamie George leads England into Six Nations but uncertain future for omitted duo

By Sports Desk January 17, 2024

Jamie George will lead England into the Guinness Six Nations but Kyle Sinckler and Billy Vunipola face uncertain international futures after being omitted from Steve Borthwick’s squad for the tournament.

George, the 85-cap veteran hooker, replaces Owen Farrell as captain after the Saracens fly-half decided to miss the Championship in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental wellbeing.

The 33-year-old is undisputed first choice in his position, an influential player in the English game and highly experienced, all factors behind his promotion ahead of Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje.

He has just committed his future to Saracens and is poised to sign one of the Rugby Football Union’s 25 ‘enhanced contracts’ at a time when a growing number of England players – including Farrell – have either joined French clubs or are considering doing so.

Explaining George’s choice as captain, head coach Borthwick said: “Firstly, Jamie is an outstanding player, one of the best hookers in the world with incredible work-rate. He’s a great example in that sense.

“Secondly, he’s got a fantastic understanding of the game, tactically very astute. And thirdly, he’s brilliant with people and builds great relationships.

“(His new contract) is a real positive step. It’s a really good sign that English rugby, while there’s still some way to go, has potentially turned a corner.

“To have the captain of England commit his future to English rugby is an important step.”

The outlook for Vunipola and Sinckler is less positive with two stalwarts of the 2019 and 2023 World Cup cycles facing battles to reclaim their places in the pack.

“I’ve spoken to both players regularly about what I’d like to see develop in their games to be in the squad,” Borthwick said.

“Do I think Kyle Sinckler will be back in the squad at some point in the future? I’m pretty sure he will be and I sense a determination from him to go after the aspects we discussed.”

England and Saracens appear increasingly resigned to Farrell’s departure to Racing 92 next season, a move that would make him ineligible for international selection.

“I spoke with Owen yesterday (Tuesday) and what’s important is that Owen makes a decision that’s right for Owen and his family,” Borthwick said.

“Will a player of Owen’s calibre be missed if he chooses to play outside of England?  Yes, of course. Do I want him in some point in the future to come back? Yes.

“But I also want him to do what’s right for him and his family and have the experiences and the memories that he wants to make.”

There are seven uncapped players in a 36-man squad that has been significantly revamped following the World Cup, containing only 17 of the 34 involved in France.

Retirements and injuries have forced Borthwick’s hand to an extent, while there are returns for the likes of Henry Slade and Alex Dombrandt, but the inclusion of Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Oscar Beard, Tom Roebuck, Chandler Cunningham-South, Ethan Roots, Fraser Dingwall and Fin Smith indicates a period of evolution.

Exciting 21-year-old Exeter wing Feyi-Waboso was born and raised in Cardiff and played for Wales at age-group level, only to now commit to England.

“Manny’s really impressed us, not just on the pitch. 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,” Borthwick said.

“When I rang him yesterday (Tuesday), I said ‘I’m announcing my Six Nations squad tomorrow and naming you in it’. I could sense that excitement and buzz down the phone, he was thrilled. And that gave me a real energy and a real buzz as well.”

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