Sunday, May 19, 2024

England name 27-strong squad for A team game versus Portugal

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England have named a 27-strong provisional squad to take Portugal on February 25 in Leicester – including five Test-capped players – in what will be their first A team match since 2016 when they competed as the Saxons on a tour of South Africa.

Jamie Blamire and Tom Pearson, the two forwards omitted from the England senior squad this week, are named, as are Nick Isiewke, Harry Randall and Ollie Hassell-Collins in a group that will have George Skivington as its head coach. An eye-catching omission is Zach Mercer, the No8 who Skivington has as his club boss at Gloucester.

An RFU statement read: “The strong squad includes a blend of experience and youth, with five players already capped at senior level and some younger stars just at the start of their England careers.

“Those capped are Jamie Blamire, Nick Isiewke, Tom Pearson, Harry Randall and Ollie Hassell-Collins. Twenty-one of the 27 players have been brought through the England rugby pathway and achieved caps at either U18 or U20 level within the men’s system.

“The squad was selected by England senior head coach Steve Borthwick in consultation with England A head coach George Skivington, defence coach Dom Waldouck, attack coach Sam Vesty and RFU director of rugby performance Conor O’Shea.

“The squad will assemble at Loughborough University next Tuesday, February 20, to begin preparations for the fixture later that week. The group will also be joined by some of the players that Steve Borthwick doesn’t select for England senior men’s fixture against Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations.”

Borthwick said: “We’re delighted to see the return of A team rugby as such an important part of our rugby’s development and to announce the squad for the forthcoming fixture against Portugal.

“We have a lot of talented and exciting young players in England, and this is a great opportunity for them to show they can play international rugby. We have selected players in this initial squad who we believe have the potential to be in the England team in the very near future.

“One of the very important aspects of this A team is to provide a platform for players who have come out of the U20s and who are playing club rugby, allowing them to experience the international environment.”

England were originally scheduled to revive their second-team programme some years ago with a June 2021 game versus Scotland A at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, but that side coached by John Mitchell had its plans terminated at the 11th hour when covid test alerts led to the cancellation of the match.

Mitchell had named an XV containing 11 players who were uncapped at the time, including Freddie Steward, Ben Curry and Joe Heyes who are currently part of Borthwick’s Six Nations squad ahead of the round three game away to Scotland.

Ollie Lawrence, Ellis Genge and Charlie Ewels were also named to start in that aborted A game, while Beno Obano and George Furbank, two more current first-team squad members, were named on the bench.

Portugal, who beat Fiji and drew with Georgia at the recent Rugby World Cup, got their Rugby European Championship back on track last weekend with a 54-7 win over Poland following an opening round 6-10 loss to Belgium.

England A squad (vs Portugal)
Forwards (16):
Fin Baxter (Harlequins)
Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons, 7 caps)
Tarek Haffar (Northampton Saints)
Sam Riley (Harlequins)
Seb Blake (Gloucester)
Josh Iosefa Scott (Exeter Chiefs)
James Harper (Sale Sharks)
Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 11 caps)
Arthur Clark (Gloucester)
Ben Bamber (Sale Sharks)
Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs)
Tom Pearson (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)
Guy Pepper (Newcastle Falcons)
Alfie Barbeary (Bath)
Greg Fisilau (Exeter Chiefs)
Jack Clement (Gloucester)

Backs (11):
Caolan Englefield (Gloucester)
Harry Randall (Bristol Bears, 2 caps)
Charlie Atkinson (Gloucester)
Jamie Shillcock (Leicester Tigers)
Oliver Sleightholme (Northampton Saints)
Oliver Hartley (Saracens)
Rekeiti Ma’asi-White (Sale Sharks)
Cadan Murley (Harlequins)
Ollie Hassell-Collins (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
Josh Hodge (Exeter Chiefs)
Sam Harris (Bath)

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