Daly is reliable and has the trust of Borthwick but it is not unfair to ask whether England need more to compete with the very best
: Getty Images/Bob Bradford
Perhaps more than any other player, Elliot Daly personifies the selection predicament facing Steve Borthwick; a quandary that will come under fierce scrutiny as England finish the Six Nations with three difficult games.
On the one hand, the 31-year-old offers continuity from the World Cup and the significant experience of 66 caps as well as five Test appearances across two tours with the British and Irish Lions.
England have found themselves in tricky patches over the first two rounds of this season’s Six Nations. And in the absence of Courtney Lawes and Owen Farrell, they will have needed others to deliver messages and talk through scenarios. Daly is not a designated vice-captain – Ellis Genge, Maro Itoje and George Ford have all been named as Jamie George’s lieutenants – yet seems to be a vocal and assertive communicator.
He also crossed in Rome to score England’s first try of the Championship and set up their most recent five-pointer this weekend by plucking a dipping pass and transferring the ball to Fraser Dingwall. All told, Daly has been responsible for three of his side’s eight line-breaks during the tournament to date. Having improved in aerial exchanges, particularly when on the chase, he is extremely useful for a team that prioritises territory. Of the 1,745 kicking metres accrued by England against Italy and Wales, Daly has booted 167.
Now for the shade. While he has pressed in to shut down space at times, completing two dominant tackles, according to Stats Perform, it would not be unjust to suggest that Daly appears to be learning on the job as part of Felix Jones’ defensive system. Tommy Freeman, on the opposite flank, has looked slightly more agile.
Then one moment on Saturday, early in the second half as the hosts were straining to reduce Wales’ 14-5 lead, encapsulated why many England fans would pick someone else on the left wing. Deep in the opposition 22, following a reasonably quick ruck generated by Will Stuart’s rumble, George Ford sensed space out wide. He fed Dingwall, who sent Daly arcing outside Josh Adams with just a covering Cameron Winnett to beat.
In truth, although noise swelled from a hopeful home crowd, a try felt unlikely. Winnett dipped and stopped Daly before Adams covered across to bundle the runner into touch:
Contrast the underwhelming denouement of that move with James Lowe’s powerful finish against Italy the next afternoon...
...or the numerous occasions that Duhan van der Merwe has surged in-field and barrelled through bodies on the way to the try-line.
Daly now has 19 Test tries. That said, the past three have come against Italy and the one before that, as far back as November 2020, was in a 40-0 thumping of Georgia. He is no slouch, but do England need a more explosive athlete wearing number 11 to trouble elite defences, capitalise on broken-field situations and more consistently score in fives and sevens? The question is a fair one. And the bounding Will Muir of Bath fits that profile as a specialist left wing. Affectionately known as ‘The Horse’, he was brought into England’s squad ahead of the tournament – and ahead of clubmate Joe Cokanasiga – after Oscar Beard suffered a concussion on Harlequins duty. Other tearaways, such as Ollie Sleightholme, are sure to be examined in the A fixture against Portugal.
Whereas bolters such as Ethan Roots, Chandler Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso have been backed, Borthwick has done so with significant Test know-how cocooning these newer faces. For that reason, it would be a leap for England to have Feyi-Waboso, Freeman and another newcomer as back-three options in the same match-day 23. Besides, unless Freddie Steward is shifted from full-back in order to integrate George Furbank, the distribution of Daly will become more valuable. Borthwick will consider introducing Ollie Lawrence or Manu Tuilagi to add midfield thrust at Murrayfield alongside Henry Slade.
Dingwall could end up as the unfortunate fall-guy, and his try against Wales demonstrated how another of Daly’s traits balances the backline. You can see Ford urging Daly to move around the ruck and into a deeper slot on the near side as the England forwards pummel away:
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