Ben Earl was at the forefront of England’s seismic victory over Ireland after predicting to Steve Borthwick the impact he intended to have at Twickenham.

Earl has followed up his outstanding World Cup with an equally impressive Guinness Six Nations that has been rewarded with man-of-the-match awards against Wales and Andy Farrell’s champions.

The Saracens number eight was magnificent in Saturday’s 23-22 upset to continue his surge towards world-class status, bossing Ireland’s back row and barging over for a vital 60th-minute try as one of numerous powerful carries.

In a sign of his growing confidence, Earl told his head coach hours before the game how he expected his 29th cap to unfold.

“I sat with Ben on Saturday morning. He talked and showed me what he wanted to do against Ireland. And he pretty much did exactly what he said to me. That is down to him delivering that,” Borthwick said.

“It is phenomenal the thought process he is going through and how ambitious he is as a player to get better.

“Ben played his first 15 games off the bench. Even in last year’s Six Nations he played a run of games and then he was out.


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“I think he feels backed. I get the impression he feels he is growing as a player and he wants to keep getting better.”

By defying expectations to topple the defending champions, England revived their title ambitions heading into the final weekend even if Ireland remain firmly in the driving seat.

A courageous gameplan that placed an emphasis on attack was well executed with the try count won 3-2, providing redemption after an error-strewn defeat by Scotland a fortnight ago.

Had England not imploded at Murrayfield, they could have been challenging for the Grand Slam themselves but Borthwick has been careful not to rebuke his young team.

“Post the Scotland game, there was evidence that the weight of the shirt was on the players,” he said.

“I believe we need to create a supportive environment. Everybody involved with English rugby is under incredible scrutiny. That’s just the way it is.

“There’s incredible expectation and I’d rather be involved in a team where there is expectation upon it than not.

“But with that I want to make sure that young players are coming into a supportive environment. I want to see their point of difference on the grass.

“Mistakes are going to happen and we are understanding of that, but we don’t want to repeat mistakes. We have got to learn fast.

“The team went through a difficult experience at Murrayfield, reviewed it properly and then addressed it on the training field.

“The players weren’t perfect against Ireland, they made mistakes, but at Murrayfield I thought we made a mistake and then went into ourselves, played a little bit small.

“Against Ireland they made errors and got into the next battle. If there is anything I can encourage the players to do, it is go into the next battle.”

Ben Earl hit back at England’s critics after they produced their best display since the 2019 World Cup by dispatching Ireland 23-22 at Twickenham.

Marcus Smith’s match-winning drop goal in the last act of a spellbinding match denied Ireland the chance to complete back-to-back Grand Slams and ensured the Guinness Six Nations title will be decided on the final weekend.

England will be contesting the crown when they face France and they will head to Lyon lifted by an inspired afternoon against the current champions, a fortnight after they blundered their way to defeat by Scotland.

Steve Borthwick’s men were given little chance of beating Ireland – bookmakers rated them 4-1 underdogs – yet they delivered their most complete performance since the 2019 World Cup victory over New Zealand.

“Unbelievable really. I’m a bit emotional,” player of the match Earl said.

“Some of the crap that has been thrown at the team over this last week, apparently we are the worst England team ever. We have done pretty well for that accolade.

“We knew from the beginning of the game if we played our best stuff we would have a chance. Amazing stadium, amazing fans, amazing team-mates. Credit to the fans. What a great day.

“We train like that every day. We all know sometimes that doesn’t translate onto the pitch but people don’t see half the stuff we do. I’m just so pleased.”

England were headed for defeat when James Lowe crossed in the 72nd minute to nudge Ireland in front until a late do-or-die surge ended with Smith landing his decisive drop-goal.

Jamie George, the team’s captain who watched the nerve-jangling final moments from the sidelines, joked that the result was “never in doubt”.

“I don’t like watching but I was in awe of the boys on the field – the composure they showed but also going out there to attack the game and win the game,” George said.

“We didn’t panic at any stage and I have to admit it was a bit emotional at the end because of everything that’s gone on.

“I was just so proud of the players on the field. They applied themselves. It was never in doubt!”

Borthwick revealed that there are injury concerns over Chandler Cunningham-South and Henry Slade ahead of the final match against France and played down an exchange of words with Ireland boss Andy Farrell shortly before half-time.

“It’s between Andy and (me). I know people want to read things into that but Andy and I have a good relationship,” Borthwick said.

Marcus Smith’s stoppage-time drop goal rewarded England’s standout performance of the Steve Borthwick era as the Guinness Six Nations title race was taken to the final weekend with a 23-22 victory over Ireland.

Smith, making his first appearance of the tournament after recovering from a calf injury, struck in the final act of the game to deny Ireland back-to-back Grand Slams on an afternoon of high drama at Twickenham.

Watched from the stands by former captain Owen Farrell, England’s attack finally ignited as Ollie Lawrence, George Furbank and Ben Earl plundered tries to topple opponents who had been installed by bookmakers as staggering 1/5 favourites to win.

The Achilles heel of failing to capitalise on visits to the 22 appeared to be harming them once again and their 8-6 lead was a poor return for half an hour of dominance that produced just a single try for Lawrence.

But they were inspired in the closing stages, soaking up James Lowe’s 72nd-minute try that appeared to have snatched the win for Ireland and then striking through Smith amid a late do-or-die assault.

England dazzled from the start and their first try had Furbank’s influence stamped all over it as he launched the counter-attack and then helped flash the ball to Lawrence, who finished in the left corner.

The early score developed into a full-scale onslaught as inspired England poured forward, directed by George Ford and with Earl, Ollie Chessum and full debutant Immanuel Feyi-Waboso making telling contributions.

Bundee Aki made ground with every carry as Ireland’s main weapon but he was swimming against the tide as the white shirts pressed again and a second Lawrence try was ruled out because of a knock-on.

The crippling handling errors and turnovers that led to Scotland retaining the Calcutta Cup in round three had vanished, replaced by players running hard on to flat passes and punching holes in the visiting defence.

Yet for all the hosts’ dominance, successive Jack Crowley penalties meant they trailed 9-8 and as Ireland produced their first sustained attack the fly-half landed a fourth shot from the tee.

England were guilty of inviting pressure when Ford missed a routine penalty and Furbank took the ball into touch, but when their line were breached for the first time in the 44th minute it was because of their opponents’ killer instinct by exploiting Henry Slade’s positioning in the blitz defence to conjure a try for Lowe.

Furbank hit back quickly by racing over in the left corner after slick approach work from his team-mates and suddenly the pendulum swung again.

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony was sent to the sin-bin for hands in the ruck and England seized their chance, battering away at the green wall through route one until Earl forced his way over.

Marcus Smith replaced George Ford and Danny Care came on for his 100th cap but the Harlequins fly-half was unable to stop Lowe with his despairing late tackle attempt as Ireland crept back in front.

Elliot Daly missed with a long-range penalty attempt but there was still time for England to conjure the win, Smith splitting the posts after his team had battered away at the whitewash.

England are confident they have the composure to cope with any mind games played by Scotland in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash.

The rivals collide in round three of the Guinness Six Nations, with Gregor Townsend’s hosts aiming to continue their recent dominance of the fixture that reads three successive victories.

Adding to the challenge of facing one of the most talented sides in Scottish history is the hostile atmosphere awaiting England at Murrayfield.

England fly-half George Ford was targeted in the tunnel by Ryan Wilson in 2018, sparking a brawl when Owen Farrell intervened, and the team bus is customarily held up by bagpipers.

Other tactics used in the past to unsettle the ‘Auld Enemy’ have been turning off the hot water in the changing room and disruption to their warm-up by entertainers.

England are on alert for niggle during the build up to the match and on the pitch itself, but number eight Ben Earl is backing his side to take any Scottish machinations in their stride.

“There’s a resilience in us, for sure,” said Earl, who is set to continue in the back row when Steve Borthwick names his team on Thursday afternoon.

“There is a good group of experienced players in this team now – Jamie (George), George Ford, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Ellis Genge. Those guys are all different characters, but they’ve seen all the curve balls in the past.

“And then you’ve also got a group of lads who might not have played a load of Test rugby but who have played a lot of club rugby in some great games and in some great stadiums.

“So I’d say the group, in terms of expectation, is probably as prepared as any to deal with anything that’s thrown at us.

“You have to love it. If you don’t love it, then you’re playing the wrong sport at the wrong level. I absolutely love it.

“We’ve certainly spoken about the kind of Scotland are, what a good team they are, how good they are at home.

“It’s a tough place to play and we’ve definitely touched upon the trend of results over the last three or four years.

“But in terms of motivating factors, that’s one of many that we’ve got. We know the journey that we’re on as a team, in terms of what we’re trying to grow and evolve into. And that’s as much of a motivating factor as playing those guys.”

Saracens absorbed the loss of three England stars to put Harlequins to the sword in a 38-10 Gallagher Premiership victory at The Stoop.

Ben Earl and Elliot Daly were lost to respective knee and hamstring injuries during the warm-up and just seconds into the game Alex Lozowski was forced off after twisting awkwardly when chasing down Marcus Smith.

The champions took the disruption in their stride, however, as they amassed six tries in a London derby that lacked the spite seen in recent years, with Harlequins far too submissive against the league’s best side.

Both teams’ World Cup players were on parade and it was Maro Itoje who stood out among them, the lock catching the eye with a couple of big runs but also proving a handful at close quarters.

Marcus Smith and Alex Dombrandt did little to impress England head coach Steve Borthwick, who was watching from the stands, but the fault for a meek Harlequins performance was hardly theirs alone.

Saracens’ pack was typically menacing from start to finish and they supplied the opening try as part of a frantic opening with the excellent Juan Martin Gonzalez driving over from short range.

The champions frequently shuttled the ball across the field and with some success, forcing Quins to scramble out wide.

When the home ruck defence had gone missing near the centre of the pitch, Saracens reacted in a flash with Andy Christie stampeding into space only for the supporting Ivan van Zyl to cut an awkward supporting line.

Quins were breached too easily again on the half-hour mark when a counter attack launched by Alex Goode was given legs by Itoje and a phase later Olly Hartley had barged over.

A line-out drive finished by Jamie George provided Saracens’ next try as the hosts continued to be overpowered up front and as they trudged off for half-time 19-3 behind, there was no obvious way back.

Their outlook continued to deteriorate as Christie added a maul try soon after the interval, registering the bonus point, but only once Itoje had staged a marauding run.

Smith was trying his best to inspire a revival, on one occasion using his footwork to weave into space, and it took a try-saving tackle from Alex Lewington to stop Quins from scoring.

Pressure was building on the Saracens line but they weathered the storm, advanced downfield and used a mixture of forward power and polished back play to cross through Tom Parton.

Lewington and Andre Esterhuizen exchanged tries and Saracens could have plundered one more late on but Tom Willis spilt the ball forward over the line following fine approach work by Gonzalez.

England went within a whisker of qualifying for a second successive World Cup final only for South Africa’s Handre Pollard to shatter their dreams with a 79th-minute penalty.

The nail-biting 16-15 semi-final defeat which Steve Borthwick’s men led by nine points with 10 minutes remaining completed a tournament that surpassed expectations given their abysmal build-up.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at a campaign concluded by the bronze final on Friday night.


Until they hit a Springbok-shaped roadblock, England were the only semi-final side with an unbeaten record. Overwhelming Argentina in the opener despite having Tom Curry sent off in the third minute was the highlight of a group campaign that produced a close shave against Samoa until Danny Care intervened with a try and try-saving tackle rescue act. Dangerous Fiji were formidable quarter-final opponents but Owen Farrell and Ben Earl excelled to see off the Islanders, setting up the showdown with South Africa. England fell to a heroic defeat by the world champions after the tide turned against them in the final quarter, undone by the power of the ‘Bomb Squad’. Overall their results were good, but they come with the caveat of being secured in the weakest pool and on the easier half of the draw.


Borthwick showed an assured touch in selection, culminating in some inspired picks for the semi-final. Hardman rookie George Martin started at lock and delivered a coming-of-age performance while the inclusion of veteran props Dan Cole and Joe Marler was a masterstroke against the hard-scrummaging Springboks. England’s undoing was that Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler were not the front rows to face down the Bomb Squad, but they were the best support available to Borthwick. Owen Farrell ultimately won his fly-half duel with George Ford and provided compelling confirmation of his Test credentials, while the experiment of playing fly-half Marcus Smith at full-back was audacious and to the credit of the management, even if it was never a viable option against South Africa. Ford and Farrell were paired together against Samoa, reviving their old creative partnership, but it was abandoned by Borthwick when the evidence indicated it no longer worked.

Star performers

Take a bow Ben Earl, the Saracens flanker who emerged as England’s best performer despite playing at number eight and having never started a Test until August. His explosive carrying and instinct for attack beg the question why was he repeatedly overlooked during the Eddie Jones era? Smith was mesmerising at full-back, Joe Marchant’s flair will be missed when he joins Stade Francais, thus making him unavailable for selection, and Maro Itoje showed that his health-related dip in form is over. Several players see their England odysseys end with the World Cup, among them the magnificent Courtney Lawes, a back row colossus who consistently stepped up on the biggest stage, and there have been important contributions from other stalwarts – Dan Cole and Danny Care among them.


By going out on their shields at the World Cup, Borthwick should have bought some time as he begins to shape his vision for Australia 2027, but it could get worse before it gets better. Choppy waters lie ahead as the retirement of stalwarts such as Lawes and Ben Youngs, the need to refresh the team and the lack of depth in certain positions – especially hooker where Jamie George has been forced to carry a huge burden alone – present challenges that begin with the 2024 Six Nations. But Borthwick is the right man to lead England forward and the only regret over his appointment in place of Eddie Jones was that it did not happen earlier than December.

England collapsed to an agonising 16-15 defeat against South Africa at the Stade de France as they allowed a place in Saturday’s World Cup final against New Zealand to slip from their grasp.

Steve Borthwick’s men led by nine points in the final quarter but their wet-weather masterclass began to fade as the ‘Bomb Squad’ made their presence felt for the Springboks, especially in the scrum.

It was on the back of their set-piece ascendancy and the generalship of replacement fly-half Handre Pollard that the tables turned in a sodden Paris.

RG Snyman barged over for the only try of the match in the 70th minute and Pollard nailed a tricky conversion, setting up heart-stopping finish to a Test that was enthralling throughout.

The world champions were still two points behind but up stepped man-of-the-match Pollard to land the killer blow with two minutes left, nailing a penalty from just inside England’s half.

England’s players sank to their knees at the final whistle, their hearts broken having given their all in a rematch of the 2019 final despite being distant outsiders, and it was an especially cruel moment for Owen Farrell given his outstanding night.

Farrell was at the heart of many of his side’s best moments and although the captain drew the now customary boos when his name was read out on the PA system pre-match, he replied by drawing first blood with a penalty.

Breakdown and line-out success, as well as Ben Earl blasting off the base of the scrum, were further early wins until a promising drive downfield ended with Farrell kicking his second penalty.

Three times in a row England turned over South African line-out drives, winning a penalty on the third of them to relieve the pressure that was building on their line.

Every aspect of an arm wrestle of a contest was being won by England, but they were also their own worst enemies as they gave away three needless penalties, one of them for a moment of petulance from Farrell that allowed Manie Libbok to land three points.

His eyes bulging, Farrell was playing on the edge and had to be escorted away from referee Ben O’Keeffe, but he regained his composure to re-establish the six-point lead.

Libbok became the fall guy for South Africa’s woes when he was replaced in the 32nd minute by Pollard in the hope the 2019 World Cup winner would bring greater control.

Pollard’s first involvement was to boot a penalty and growing tension was evident as errors crept into both sides, but when Farrell found the target for the fourth time, England entered the break with a deserved 12-6 lead.

Rookie Leicester lock George Martin had been at the forefront of red rose resistance through his savage tackling and as the rain continued to fall there was no prospect of the game opening up.

Scrum-half Cobus Reinach and full-back Damian Willemse were the next to be pulled by South Africa, who now had Faf de Klerk and Willie le Roux on the field, and then Eben Etzebeth followed them into the dugout.

The changes were a reflection of England’s control and just as the Springboks appeared to be clawing their way into contention, Farrell rifled over a sensational drop-goal.

England’s captain was striking gold with every touch as a wicked crossfield grubber caused Kurt-Lee Arendse to fumble, but South Africa were beginning to harvest penalties at the scrum.

Suddenly the Springboks went up a gear, their pack pouring forwards from a line-out for Snyman to score.

It was now all South Africa, who had discovered a new lease of life, and when the moment for glory came, Pollard stepped up to deliver his monster penalty.

Ben Earl insists England have noted their absence from composite Rugby World Cup teams as they look to prove their critics wrong in Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against Fiji.

England completed their group campaign with a full set of four victories yet few are expecting them to challenge for South Africa’s global crown despite being placed in the easier side of the draw.

Earl has been Steve Borthwick’s star performer in France and would be pushing hard for inclusion in teams comprising the World Cup’s best players, but the general snub has not been overlooked by the squad.

“You see a lot of stuff on social media about world XVs and stuff and there’s probably not a huge amount of representation from England in that regard,” the Saracens back row said.

“A lot of people don’t think there’s that many of us in there. You always want to be in those conversations. In terms of voicing concerns about it? Not really. We know a lot of our team have been in those positions before.

“It’s just an opinion, but at the same time we know the quality we’ve got. We know that on any given day, when some of the players we have got on our team turn up we become a very, very hard team to beat.

“These are the stages that we want to be involved in. You find out a lot about your team-mates, find out a lot about yourself. We’ll be expecting big performances.

“We’ve been speaking a lot all week about it being time for our big game players to start turning up. We’ve all got a responsibility to do that.

“It’s kind of now or never. No one wants to be flying back to London on Monday morning, so we’re going to out there and perform our best and see what happens.”

Danny Care is among a number of senior players who could be making their final appearances for England and the veteran scrum-half admits there is no margin for error against Fiji, who stormed Twickenham 30-22 in August.

“It’s what you dream about, being involved in games like this. It’s the chance of a lifetime,” Care said.

“We’re fully focused on Fiji and we have to be because we know how dangerous Fiji are. If we’re slightly off it, then we will be going home. That’s the stark reality of it.

“We know the significance of this game and how much it means to us, how much it means to the people back home. We’re dying to get out there.

“For someone like me, you know this could be the last time I put on an England shirt so I’m going to give it my all.

“Any time I play for England, it means everything. But when you know you’re kind of coming to the end of your journey in that shirt you want to do yourself proud and your family proud.

“I want to make it worthwhile that I’ve been away for five months and you don’t do that by coming home after the quarter-final. We’re really excited to get out there and show what we can do.”

Ben Earl admits memories of August’s shock defeat by Fiji flashed through England’s minds against Samoa until they continued their recent knack of winning from positions of adversity.

England completed the World Cup group phase with a perfect record after edging Seilala Mapusua’s Islanders 18-17, but it took a converted 74th-minute touch down by Danny Care on top of a last-gasp try-saving tackle from the replacement scrum-half to dig out victory in Lille on Saturday.

Samoa played their best rugby in the second quarter and at one point led 17-8 to evoke memories of Fiji storming Twickenham in the build-up to the tournament.

But, as against Wales at home in that same series and Argentina at the start of the World Cup, England were able to forge a path out of the crisis – a strength previously missing from their game.

“We probably had glimpses of that Fiji match at Twickenham not long ago,” said Earl, whose team had already qualified for the quarter-finals as Pool D winners.

“But the growth in the team is that we’ve learned how to find a way to win ugly. And we’ve shown that twice now in this tournament.

“What was most pleasing as someone who was on the pitch is that we never felt too stressed. We felt that there was going to be something that was going to break them.

“We said in the changing room that we know after this performance stuff is going to come out, that we’ve taken a step back, or whatever. But we don’t see it like that.

“The performance highlighted some holes in our game, but we knew they were there and we found a way to win ugly. Sometimes winning ugly is the most rewarding.

“That was always looking like a bit of a banana skin for us and and we’ve come away with the win and with four points.

“We’re four from four – and if someone had offered us that seven or eight weeks ago, we’d have snapped their hand off.”

Steve Borthwick has been given plenty to mull over for the quarter-final against likely opponents Fiji, not least whether the creative axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell should be retained in Marseille on Sunday.

In one significant lapse in concentration, Farrell saw the shot clock run down as he was taking a penalty, but otherwise it was an evening of personal triumph for England’s captain after his eight-point haul propelled him ahead of Jonny Wilkinson as the nation’s leading scorer with 1,186.

“As a player and as a friend, some of the knowledge and some of the standards Owen set for me as a young player coming through, I can safely say I wouldn’t be half the player I am if I hadn’t played with him for such a long time,” Earl said of his Saracens team-mate.

“Owen won’t want to shine too much light on it, but that accolade is huge. Some of the players on that list are among the greatest who ever played the game.”

Ben Earl admitted it was his England career igniting that convinced him to re-sign with Saracens and play his part in lifting the domestic club out of the doldrums.

Earlier this week Earl signed a long-term contract with the Gallagher Premiership champions to continue his upward trajectory in a 2023 that has produced his first Test start and selection in Steve Borthwick’s World Cup squad.

Now that rampaging displays against Argentina, Japan and Chile have impressed audiences in France, he has become one of Borthwick’s star performers, who is set to be restored to the back row against Samoa on Saturday.

Having struggled to convince Eddie Jones and then being discarded by Borthwick in the Six Nations earlier this year in order to work on his conditioning, the 25-year-old admits he was considering his options overseas until his England outlook changed.

“You never shut that door. I guess it is a lot easier to move abroad if you are not playing for England,” Earl said.

“If you are not in the picture, it can be nice sometimes to have a change of scene, but thankfully at the moment I’m playing for England and that made my decision for me.

“Steve has always been very honest with me about what it would take for me to play for England and hopefully I’m starting to make some steps in those directions.

“Now it is just a no-brainer, I’m fully focussed on playing for Saracens and hopefully for England for a long time.”

Earl has chosen to stay in the Gallagher Premiership during a period of upheaval.

Jersey Reds’ announcement last week that they had entered administration lifts the total of professional clubs to have gone out of business in the past year to four, painting a grim picture of the finances of the English game.

A closer relationship between the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby is set to produce a series of ‘hybrid contracts’ that will give Borthwick greater control over around 20 of his Tests stars.

Earl would be a prime candidate for one of the contracts that would see a player’s club receive greater compensation and he believes his generation has a role to play in restoring the sport to health.

“We are hearing good things about the plans for the league over the next couple of years – salary cap stuff and commercial stuff. We are already seeing some small changes and that can only be a good thing,” he said.

“There have been times when players have shut themselves off from the commercial side of the game.

“And we as a younger generation in terms of coming through and taking on the mantle of the league, we need to be a bit more open by putting ourselves out there.

“We’ve had some talks with the league. We’re asking for a bit more, they’re asking for a bit more. Everyone is willing and saying the right things, so hopefully that’s a step in the right direction.”

Ben Earl believes England are ready to turn a corner but are determined to let their rugby do the talking amid low expectations of what can be achieved at the World Cup.

England have lost their last three Tests and will sink to their lowest position of ninth in the 20-year history of the global rankings should they fall to Wales in Saturday’s clash at Twickenham.

Their most recent home appearance was a traumatising 53-10 rout by France in the Six Nations and there has been little evidence of an uplift since Steve Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones in December.

With a key World Cup opener against Argentina fast approaching on September 9, they need to reverse their fortunes – and Earl senses that moment is coming.

“We didn’t have a great Six Nations, which came off an average autumn, and there’s been a change of regime between the two,” Earl said.

“Steve talks about not talking but doing – and we’re right on the precipice of trying to show what we can do.

“There’s been a big challenge laid down by the coaching team and the players that it has to start transferring on to the pitch. We know that. There’s an onus on us and it’s the privilege we’ve got to show that this weekend.

“We’re training really well. We’re competing really hard. It’s one of the best environments we’ve all been in.

“We’re really enjoying each other’s company and it just feels like we’re on the edge of something.

“It might just take one game, it might take three games. It might take us to try and scrap our way out of the group and see what happens, but we’re trying really hard.”

The second of four warm-up Tests will be a special moment for Earl, whose 15 caps to date have all been won as a replacement since making his debut in 2020.

Unable to truly convince Jones of his talents – even while lighting up the Premiership as an all-action openside with a flair for attack – and then being sent back to Saracens during the Six Nations, he was in danger of being marooned on the margins.

But selection in England’s final 33-man World Cup squad has been followed by a place in the back row against Wales, giving him the platform to press his case for selection against Argentina.


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Only Saracens and England team-mate Jamie George is disappointed that the stars might finally be aligning for the 25-year-old.

“There was a bit of an ongoing joke between us because Jamie has got the record of the most Test appearances off the bench without a start. I was two away,” Earl said.

“He’s a good mate of mine and he wasn’t the most proud to have that record. When he heard I was starting this weekend, I think he was quietly gutted.

“Not starting was something that was playing on my mind for sure. It’s no secret that my history with England has been a bit bizarre. It’s not just been one clear, upward curve.

“There have been times when you think it’s not going to happen, but you just crack on.”

Ben Earl insists England’s players appreciate Steve Borthwick’s personal touch having previously endured the experience of learning about World Cup selection on a WhatsApp group.

Borthwick’s predecessor, Eddie Jones, used the messaging app to inform the 31 who would be taken to Japan four years ago if they had been chosen, with their names appearing in a newly-created group revealing the good news.

It was seen by some as a brutal way to discover whether a player’s World Cup dream had been made or broken, while WhatsApp was regularly employed during the Jones era to communicate team selection.

Since replacing Jones in December, Borthwick has adopted a more tactful approach to interacting with his squad and that will be needed on August 7 when he names the 33 who will be involved in this autumn’s global showpiece.

“With Steve it has been very much personal and that’s been great,” said Earl, the Saracens flanker hoping to be a part of England’s World Cup campaign.

“I know a lot of players have enjoyed that side of it and not having to stay up late at night waiting to be added to a WhatsApp group, which I know a few people have experienced. That has been a really nice change.

“Obviously we are all dying to be involved. But if it’s not your day, it’s not your day. And then you’ve got to crack on.”

Earl is competing for a World Cup spot within an ultra-competitive back row contingent, England’s most recent 40-man training squad featuring eight specialists across the three positions.

Additionally, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje and George Martin are options at blindside flanker as well as second row, increasing the rivalry for a ticket to France.

To underline the challenge facing the players is the decision made a week ago to leave out Sam Underhill, one of the stars of the 2019 World Cup and one half of the ‘Kamikaze Kid’ combination that took Japan by storm.

“Within our structured gameplan, there is still massive scope to be the player you want to be. That’s the magic of our back-row make-up,” Earl said.


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“There’s not one player who is the same as another. Every player has a strength and we’re all window-shopping, picking each little bit from each other and picking one another’s brains.

“The amount of experiences that the back-rowers have had this year is unbelievable. Jack Willis won the Top 14, Lewis Ludlam captained his club, Tom Pearson could have been player of the season in the Premiership and then you have Billy Vunipola and Alex Dombrandt, who have unbelievable international experience.

“Everyone is offering their little bit as best they can. There is obviously an elephant in the room with the competition, but it’s the healthiest and best environment I’ve been in.

“I guess not many nations will have our competition. In 2019 Sam Underhill was probably one of the players of the tournament, so that just goes to show how competitive it is.

“Sam trained brilliantly and it was a shock to us all that he was no longer involved. That really struck home with us.”

Ben Earl is looking to help Saracens regain the Gallagher Premiership title and put down an early World Cup selection marker at Twickenham on Saturday.

Saracens flanker Earl has been among the league’s most consistent performers, highlighted by him winning Premiership player of the season last year.

But while his England career is into double figures in terms of caps, he has made just two Test appearances since March 2021.

Earl’s experience of the Guinness Six Nations this term was restricted to a combined 52 minutes off the bench against Scotland and Italy, with back-row starting berths in Steve Borthwick’s team being fought out by the likes of Ben Curry, Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam.

A Premiership final puts himself firmly in the spotlight, though, ahead of England’s World Cup countdown towards France later this year gathering pace.

“The moment you start looking for excuses, the moment you start thinking I am just unlucky, my face doesn’t fit, is probably the moment you give somebody the reason to drop you,” Earl said.

“I’ve kind of got to stay with it. Steve was unbelievably positive about my work in the Six Nations.

“Unfortunately, selection didn’t always go my way, but I am trying to stay positive and put my best foot forward in these big games, which are probably the games he is looking at the most.

“I think I have played as consistently as I did last year, which was a big challenge of mine.

“There is no point winning some of the accolades I did last year and not backing it up. Selfishly, the elephant in the room is that I wish I could have played a bit more for England in that Six Nations campaign.

“For whatever reason, I didn’t, and I have learnt a lot from that. I am looking forward to going again, putting my best foot forward in these big games, which has been a big focus of mine.

“The moment that you stop performing, you give someone an easy reason not to pick you. That is a big thing.

“On the flip-side, if I get a chance to play a Test match this summer, it’s got to be good.

“You look at how competitive my position is, it always feels that the person who slips up first is going to be the one that misses out.”

Saracens are back at English rugby headquarters a year after Freddie Burns’ late drop-goal saw Leicester crowned champions, leaving Earl and his team-mates deflated.

But victory over Sale, who have reached a first Premiership final since 2006, would give Saracens a sixth league crown in the past 13 seasons.

“It would mean everything to me,” Earl added. “The amount of times I have carried bags for games like these when I was a bit younger, I have always wanted to celebrate a win.

“Coming a little bit short last year has only made this group hungrier and me hungrier. To win the league after such a long slog with your boyhood club would be everything, really.

“In the 12 months I’ve learnt a huge amount in terms of getting myself right mentally, and what I can give the team if I am right. Hopefully, I can show that on Saturday.”

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