Ben Earl commends England coach Steve Borthwick’s tactful approach with squad

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.

Ben Earl was named 2021-22 Premiership player of the season for his blockbusting form for Saracens

Ben Earl was named 2021-22 Premiership player of the season for his blockbusting form for Saracens (Ben Whitley/PA)

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.

“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.”

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