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Rugby World Cup: Last hurrahs and the dawn of a new era for England in bronze final against Argentina

England's 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign comes to a close on Friday when they face Argentina in the bronze final, but for several of the current team it will signal the end of an era as well; It is the start of a new era for Steve Borthwick's team too as attention turns to the Six Nations

England v South Africa - Rugby World Cup 2023 - Semi Final - Stade De France
England's Billy Vunipola and Courtney Lawes dejected following the Rugby World Cup 2023 semi final match at the Stade de France, Saint-Denis. Picture date: Saturday October 21, 2023.

"I've said to the boys, anyone that's asked: I think it's time."

"Never say never, but very much in my head now I'm thinking, more than likely that I'll be done after this."

"I've got no idea! I've got a season at Sale, then got no plans."

Those were the verdicts of Courtney Lawes, Jonny May, and Manu Tuilagi respectively when asked about their England futures following the Rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to South Africa.

England's 2023 Rugby World Cup results

October 21 (Semi-finals) England 15-16 South Africa
October 15 (Quarter-finals) England 30-24 Fiji
October 7 (Pool D) England 18-17 Samoa
September 23 (Pool D) England 71-0 Chile
September 17 (Pool D) England 34-12 Japan
September 9 (Pool D) England 27-10 Argentina

Ben Youngs has announced he will be retiring after the tournament too and fellow scrum-half Danny Care admitted "time is running out" on his international career. Dan Cole, Joe Marler and even captain Owen Farrell are among those on the wrong side of 30 who might not be part of the England team for much longer as well.

The curtain has not quite come down for any of them just yet, for there is still the matter of the bronze final against Argentina in Paris on Friday night. It is not the way anyone wanted to sign off this tournament or, indeed, an international career, yet the determination to go out on a high is undiminished.

"Quite a few of the boys, it's their last week, last game, last training session, so it's emotional," inside centre Tuilagi told Sky Sports News.

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Manu Tuilagi believes the future of English rugby is bright, but admits it has been an emotional week as some players prepare for their final game in an England shirt.

"Those boys will want to leave the jersey in the best place, they're legends of the game, and we're fortunate enough to rub shoulders with them."

The third-place clash with the Pumas is a rematch of England's opening match of this World Cup, where they claimed an improbable 27-10 victory in Pool D despite Tom Curry's early red card as George Ford took matters into his own hands with some stunning drop-goal kicking.

A laboured bonus-point win over Japan, a rout of debutants Chile, a win over Samoa in a game they arguably should have lost and nervy quarter-final success over Fiji in which they could have lost preceded England's best showing of the tournament against South Africa.

Ultimately though, that still was not enough to dethrone the reigning champions as Handre Pollard's late penalty sealed a 16-15 win to set up a final against New Zealand, leaving head coach Steve Borthwick plenty to ponder whatever the outcome for his side this Friday.

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England make eight changes to the team for the Bronze Medal Match against Argentina at the Rugby World Cup.

England's 2024 Six Nations opener against Italy on February 3 is just over three months away too and while that will see a new era start to dawn for the national team, May is backing Borthwick as the person to revive fortunes despite an up-and-down first year in the job.

"You won't find a harder-working man than Steve and his approach to the game is a little bit like Alan Turing," the Gloucester winger said.

"If anybody is going to crack the code to rugby it will be Steve - he's getting ever closer each week and good luck to him. He's got an analytical brain and an evidence-based, scientific, Spock-like approach to the game.

"With his ways, he's on to something. He's a young coach and has this unique and different way that he goes about the game."

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Courtney Lawes says England gave everything and should have claimed the win against South Africa in their Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Borthwick, who holds a degree in economics with politics from Bath University, earned his analytical, insightful, student-of-the-game coaching reputation when working as a forwards coach at club level with Saracens and Bristol, and internationally with England and Japan, being credited with devising some intriguing line-out set plays as well.

Guiding Leicester Tigers to a first Premiership Rugby title for nine years in 2022 in his first head coach job further burnished that reputation and led to the former international second row being elevated to the national team job in December last year following Eddie Jones' sacking.

With long-standing team members like Lawes and Youngs, both of whom have amassed over a century of Test caps, set to retire from international duty and others potentially opting to do the same, Borthwick faces something of a reshaping job post-World Cup.

The 44-year-old is already looking to the future though and is determined to ensure there is something for the team to build on, having named an experimental team for the clash with Argentina which sees a mix of experienced heads and potential next-generation stars.

England team for bronze final

15 Marcus Smith, 14 Freddie Steward, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Henry Arundell, 10 Owen Farrell (c) 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Theo Dan, 3 Will Stuart, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Ollie Chessum, 6 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Ben Earl.

Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Bevan Rodd, 18 Dan Cole, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Ollie Lawrence.

"In adversity, in these tough times, there's usually some seed of it there that will grow and be something brilliant in the future," Borthwick said.

"Right now, it's too early for me to find that seed but we'll make sure we find it."

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