England centre Manu Tuilagi was omitted from Steve Borthwick’s first matchday squad for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Scotland.
Former England captain Borthwick, who took over after Eddie Jones was sacked in December following the team’s worst year since 2008, recalled Joe Marchant instead of Tuilagi for the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham.
Marchant will join fly-half Marcus Smith and England captain Owen Farrell among the backs, with Ollie Lawrence and Anthony Watson, two late call-ups, providing bench cover.
Injury-plagued Tuilagi has won 50 caps in an England career dating back to 2011 and featured in three of their four November Tests.
The powerful 31-year-old has often been England’s go-to centre when fit and starred in their 2019 World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand, although his repeated absences have frustrated attempts to create a settled midfield.
Borthwick, was the coach at Leicester when Tuilagi, having refused a pay cut when the Covid-19 pandemic put the English Premiership on hold, left the club where he made his name for Sale Sharks.
Dan Kelly, Guy Porter and Matias Moroni then starred in a refreshed midfield as Leicester won last season’s Premiership title.
Asked how Tuilagi had reacted to being left out, Borthwick replied: “Manu was the incredible professional that he is. We spoke, I told him what I had decided, selection wise, and why I had.
“We shook hands and then he went and trained really hard and that reaction is testimony to him and his character.
“We want to build a team that is not just about getting picked but a team that is playing well and fighting for selection.”
– ‘Right combination’ –
Borthwick has kept faith with a fly-half/inside centre axis of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell, thereby resisting the temptation to star England captain Farrell at No 10.
“It is the right combination for this game,” said Borthwick.
“Joe Marchant at 13 (outside centre) works really well with Marcus. You see how those two connect (at Harlequins), both with ball in hand and the great attacking kicks that Marcus has and the way Joe finds those.
“Owen has played really well in the 12 shirt for many years, and some of England’s best performances have been with Owen in the 12 shirt.
“He has talked to me in the past about how he enjoys playing with other ball-players.”
Ollie Hassell-Collins will make a Test debut on the left wing, with Max Malins and Freddie Steward completing the back three.
Elsewhere in the backs, Jack van Poortvliet will start at scrum-half, with Leicester team-mate Ben Youngs, England’s most-capped player, on the bench.
In the pack, Ben Curry has been summoned into a back-row missing his injured twin brother Tom. Maro Itoje partners Ollie Chessum at lock.
Jamie George, having come through concussion protocols, starts at hooker.
The combination of Smith, Farrell and Marchant has been seen once before, in the first Test against Australia last year.
Marchant, who will join Stade Francais next season, was dropped after that defeat in Perth and did not appear during Jones’ final November campaign.
His return, alongside Smith could help England implement the plans of attack coach Nick Evans, on secondment from Harlequins.
England are bidding to avoid a third successive defeat by Scotland, who announced their team earlier Thursday, in the latest edition of rugby union’s oldest international match.
“To a man, the players are determined to play with the commitment, fight and desire that is at the very heart of representing England, the sort of passion that our tremendous supporters rightly expect,” said Borthwick.