With the first set of internationals to take place since the World Cup, who are the Scrum Halves in contention for a place in Borthwick’s England Squad?
Selection for this Six Nations will be tricky, Borthwick will have to weigh up developing young talent for 2027 and also the undeniable need for experience among those likely not to be around come the next Rugby World Cup.
The Scrum Half position is often the first to be brought up when people critique selection, with the repetitive drumming of the need for quick ball being the rhetoric that many fans choose to use. Of course, this is an important element of the position, but it shouldn’t be the only deciding factor to offer the same excitement and deliver the same as quick ball or flair. Consistent kicking should not be overlooked, after all, number 9 kicks just as much – maybe more – than any other position.
With Youngs retiring internationally and Care probably going to be overlooked due to age, it is the end of an era. Yet there is an exciting crop coming through to take the reins. Mitchell has been brilliant this year at Saints. He brings excitement and flair, acts as a brilliant playmaker and creates opportunities from nothing. But what is more impressive is how much his kicking game has come on. Perhaps an area of weakness in seasons gone by, Mitchell is kicking with much more accuracy and with that, improving his chances of being in the matchday squad for England.
Who else is in contention? The candidates include Gus Warr of Sale, who has been brilliant from the end of last season and the start of this one. Harry Randell, of Bristol, is again another exciting player who has previously played for England but was not able to hold down his place.
I think the standout is Ben Spencer. Whilst Bath’s resurgence is often credited to the addition of Russell, I’d argue Spencer has played a more significant role. He makes the correct decisions, doesn’t try to do too much, brings in the players around him and has no real weakness in his game. His only real drawback is his age. 31, and will be 34 by the next World Cup. This may be an issue for some, although Care and Youngs have shown how it is possible to not see a regression in form. I think Borthwick would be silly to overlook him.
Helping Spencer’s case is the injury to Jack Van Poortvliet, who has yet to play since going off with an injury in the World Cup warm-up stages. Still young, JVP has a ceiling more than high enough to be in this England team consistently for many years to come.
In the squad, there will be 3 Scrum Halves. I would take Mitchell, Spencer and Randall. I think Randall just edges Warr, but I do not doubt that if Warr keeps to his current trajectory, he will play for England sometime in the future.
Whilst I would probably say Mitchell is the better player (just), I think there may well be a tactical advantage with having him play the ‘finisher’ role off the bench. Spencer cannot put a foot wrong and plays quality rugby for as long as you need yet may not bring the spark Mitchell does. Therefore, bringing on a fresh Mitchell after 50 minutes and letting him loose for 30 minutes could cause real problems for opponents, and he is a game-winner. So, with Spencer’s control and game management to start and then injecting Mitchell into the game may well justify who starts and who doesn’t. On the contrary, if a quick start is needed, or is the chosen gameplan, we may well see these two swaps with Spencer coming off the bench to control the last quarter.
The question around the Scrum Half is a fascinating one. With Borthwick initially overlooking Mitchell for a place in his World Cup squad and then starting him in most games, who knows what the England coach is planning?