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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nick Purewal

England Rugby World Cup player ratings: Ben Earl steals the show as Marcus Smith dazzles in new role

England defied the odds to take reigning champions South Africa right to the wire in Saturday’s tense Rugby World Cup semi-final.

The Red Rose men lost out 16-15 but produced their finest performance in years.

Nick Purewal rates the England players who almost made it to the final in France. 

Loosehead props: 

Ellis Genge – 7 

So potent for so much of the tournament, but could not contain Vincent Koch at the scrum in the semi-final defeat. 

Joe Marler – 8 

Delivered in spades in the final against the world’s strongest scrum and always stood up well across the competition. 

Bevan Rodd – 6 

Could not impose himself on proceedings in the way he would have liked, but a totally dependable member of the touring party.

Tighthead props: 

Dan Cole – 8 

Exorcised plenty of demons from the 2019 final defeat by South Africa when scrummaging in style against the Boks in Saturday’s last-four loss. 

Joe Marler and Dan Cole delivered fine scrummaging performances against South Africa (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Kyle Sinckler – 6 

Has never looked quite right after his chest injury, and could not get any scrum purchase when coming off the bench in the semi-final. 

Will Stuart – 6 

The Bath tighthead’s time will likely come in future as he should hit his peak in the next few years, but for this tournament he could not dislodge the more experienced men ahead of him. 


Jamie George – 7 

Had to shoulder the huge burden of playing the full 80 minutes for England’s last three matches, and that told at the tail-end of the Boks loss. But the Saracens star remains one of England’s most important players. 

Theo Dan – 6 

Looked lively when used and will gain a great deal from the experience. Now he needs to hone his craft at Saracens and push to close the gap to George. 

Jack Walker – 5 

Unable to get much of a look-in given England’s reliance on George, the Harlequins star still retains the respect and trust of the Red Rose coaches. 


Maro Itoje – 8 

He pledged to be back to his best when it mattered most, and he absolutely was. The Saracens talisman imposed himself on the ultra-physical Springboks for a classic semi-final performance. 

Ollie Chessum – 7 

An impressive tournament especially so soon after such a serious ankle injury. The Leicester lock will be a fixture for years to come. 

George Martin – 8 

So physical, so bullish and so dominant in the semi-final, Martin can look forward to dominating England team sheets for the foreseeable. 

Confident Leicester lock George Martin dominated against the Springboks in Paris (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)

David Ribbans – 7 

The Toulon-bound lock added security and ballast to proceedings whenever called upon. 

Back-row forwards: 

Courtney Lawes – 9 

What a swan song from the Northampton forward, who will retire from Test rugby after the World Cup. This was Lawes at his physical, intimidating and intelligent best. 

Tom Curry – 7 

Red card against Argentina proved the worst possible start but the Sale flanker recovered his poise and his place to frustrate the Springboks all of Saturday night. 

Ben Earl – 9 

England’s man of the tournament, Earl has come of Test match age on this tour and is now in total control of the No 8 berth. 

Billy Vunipola – 5 

The Saracens talisman was simply unable to bring his usual game to bear at all in this competition. Struggled for form and cut an understandably frustrated, albeit still focused, figure. 

Ben Earl was England's player of the tournament from the base of the scrum (AP)

Lewis Ludlam – 7 

Never lets anyone down and acts as a big leader in the squad even if he cannot force his way into the strongest line-up. An important tourist for harmony, attitude and morale as well as his versatility in action. 

Jack Willis – 6 

Could not transfer his Toulouse form to the Test arena, and his tournament was cut short by a niggly neck problem. 

Sam Underhill – 5 

A late call-up to replace Willis, Underhill added bite to training, but was unable to force his way into any match action. 


Alex Mitchell – 8 

The late injury replacement for Jack van Poortvliet, Mitchell will return to England as the man firmly in possession of the No 9 shirt. A stunning tournament where he found his Test match feet. 

Danny Care – 7 

The Harlequins veteran still manages to be among the quickest off the mark in this England squad and forced his way into the first-choice match squad. 

Alex Mitchell is firmly now entrenched as England's starting scrum-half moving forward (Getty Images)

Ben Youngs – 5 

The vastly experienced Leicester half-back will have been gutted not to have featured more, but could not dislodge either of the other nines at the crucial times. 


Owen Farrell – 8 

Commanded the fly-half role for the biggest games, and totally justified that selection. A captain who sets the tone and standard, Farrell will surely continue as England skipper beyond this tournament. 

George Ford – 7 

An imperious start against Argentina, but the Sale fly-half had to defer to captain Farrell when the skipper moved back to fly-half in the end. 

Owen Farrell remains instrumental to England, while Marcus Smith is now a real weapon at full-back (Getty Images)

Marcus Smith – 8 

A stunning tournament for Smith in the entirely new role of full-back. Unable to get into the argument at fly-half, Smith shone at 15 instead. His increased acceleration has marked him out as a big danger on the ball. 


Manu Tuilagi – 7 

Back to full fitness and sharpness and delivered a string of ultra-reliable and teak-tough performances. 

Joe Marchant – 6 

Stepped up well in the centres but never quite cut loose in the way he is capable. 

Ollie Lawrence – 7 

The physical Bath centre showed glimpses of his abilities and will surely be in Steve Borthwick’s thoughts for a bigger role in future. 

Back three: 

Jonny May – 7 

The Gloucester wing expects his England career to end after the tournament, and the 33-year-old should be hugely proud of all his achievements in the Red Rose shirt. Delivered on all his tasks in exactly the way Borthwick wanted. 

Elliot Daly – 7 

Impressive under the high ball in the semi-final, causing South Africa untold problems in the air. Unable to cut loose with ball in hand but still produced a fine tournament’s work. 

Henry Arundell – 6 

Five tries against Chile the obvious highlight, but this was not to be the World Cup for Arundell to bring all his talents to bear. The arch-finisher is not the kick-chase and defence man that Borthwick wanted from his wings.

Could very well thrive at outside centre with Racing 92 in the season ahead, which might throw up an intriguing Test opportunity in the position. 

Henry Arundell scored five tries against debutants Chile, but could not hold onto his starting berth (PA)

Max Malins – 6 

Unable to force his way into the conversation to feature in the strongest line-up, where Daly took the berth he would have targeted. Still abundantly talented and has plenty of time with England ahead. 

Freddie Steward – 8 

The clear man of the match in the semi-final, all-but infallible under the high ball and helped contain so many of the Springboks’ biggest weapons. A crucial figure for England’s future.

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