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Rugby World Cup: Luke Cowan-Dickie absence hurts England

England have admitted defeat over hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie after confirming he won't feature at the 2023 Rugby World Cup due to injury.

Head coach Steve Borthwick named his 41-man official training squad on Friday as preparations ramp up ahead of the competition in France, which runs from 8th September to 28th October.

England's opening fixture takes place on 9th September when they face Argentina at Marseille's Stade Velodrome, while they will also take on Japan, Chile and Samoa in Pool D.

The Red Rose play four friendlies in August, taking on Wales twice and also going up against Ireland and Fiji prior to making the short trip across the Channel for the autumn showpiece.

Borthwick will confirm his final 33-man group for the competition on 7th August.

WhatRugby World Cup 2023
WhereFrance
When8th September - 28th October, 2023
How to watchITV
OddsFrance 11/4, New Zealand 3/1, Ireland 4/1, South Africa 9/2, Australia 8/1, England 9/1

Lack of experience to fill Cowan-Dickie void

Cowan-Dickie endured an injury-plagued 2022/23 campaign with ankle and shoulder issues keeping him on the sidelines for the majority of the season.

The 30-year-old missed the 2023 Six Nations due to issues with his shoulder and Exeter Chiefs director of Rugby Rob Baxter revealed in March that they were exploring ways to "speed up his recovery."

Baxter said: “The RFU (Rugby Football Union) are also investigating various things to see if there is anything they can do to speed up his recovery, because obviously they are concerned World Cup-wise.

“Everything is being poured into it, and I feel a bit sorry for the guy because he is a bit like a live experiment for everybody, really.

“There is nobody at the club who wants Luke Cowan-Dickie to be fit more than me."

However, Cowan-Dickie has failed in his efforts to return to fitness and Borthwick has been forced to omit the 38-cap forward from his training squad.

Borthwick said: "Despite all his incredible work and progress, Luke’s shoulder has not improved sufficiently for him to be considered for selection for the World Cup. We wish him a swift recovery and hope to see him back playing very soon."

Cowan-Dickie's absence will be leave a big void at hooker, with all of Borthwick's other options, barring Jamie George, lacking experience at the highest level.

George, who has been capped 69 times, will be under pressure to deliver with the other two options - Theo Dan and Jamie Blamire - holding just six caps between them.

Dan only made his debut for Saracens in November 2021, but he impressed as his club won the Gallagher Premiership last season.

Newcastle Falcons hooker Jamie Blamire made his debut under Eddie Jones, scoring in a victory over the United States at Twickenham on 4th July 2021.

Farrell confirmed as captain

Borthwick has also confirmed that Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell will captain England at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with Bristol Bears' Ellis Genge and Northampton Saints' Courtney Lawes will act as vice captains.

"I met Owen (Farrell) about 10 days ago and we spent about two hours walking around fields talking about everything we wanted to do with this team. His passion...he's a fantastic leader and players have enormous respect for him," Borthwick added.

One surprise was the omission of Gloucester-bound back-row Zach Mercer. A lack of depth at number eight led many to believe that Mercer would, at least, remain in the training squad.

Uncapped number eight Tom Willis has been added to the squad, though, leading to the suggestion that he will make the final cut.

Willis, who is moving to Saracens for next season, joins his brother Jack in the 41-strong squad.

Borthwick said: "I think Tom is a really excellent player. We’ve tracked him a lot as he has been playing in France over this last period of time.

"Clearly, both he and Jack at the start of this programme will have modified training given when their seasons ended, so we’ll manage that specifically for those players.

"I’m really looking forward to working with him. I worked with him for a couple of days during the Six Nations and I’m looking forward to working with him more."

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