England recorded a second successive bonus-point victory in this season’s Guinness Six Nations as they brushed aside Wales 46-10 at Ashton Gate.

The Red Roses’ pursuit of a sixth title on the bounce continued as they backed up a 48-0 victory over Italy with another try spree.

Watched by a crowd of 19,700 – England’s biggest attendance for a home game outside of Twickenham – Marlie Packer’s team claimed first-half touchdowns from props Maud Muir and Hannah Botterman, hooker Lark Atkin-Davies and lock Zoe Aldcroft.

Holly Aitchison kicked two conversions and, while Wales briefly held the advantage through a Lleucu George penalty, they had a mountain to climb in the second period.

That challenge soon became way too much as quickfire tries from full-back Ellie Kildunne and wing Abby Dow took England past 30 points and confirmed a 39th victory in 41 Tests against Wales since fixtures began between the two sides.

Replacement Keira Bevan touched down for Wales, with George converting, but further England tries followed through lock Rosie Galligan and Kildunne, whose second score matched her double against Italy last weekend, while Aitchison landed one further conversion.

England head coach John Mitchell handed first starts of the Six Nations campaign to Tatyana Heard and Natasha Hunt, but back-row forward Sarah Beckett began a three-match ban after being sent off against Italy.

Mitchell’s opposite number Ioan Cunningham also rang the changes, yet Wales’ preparations were dealt a blow when prolific try-scoring wing Jasmine Joyce withdrew due to a hamstring strain. Lisa Neumann replaced her in the starting line-up.

George kicked Wales into a sixth-minute lead, but England’s response proved swift and decisive as Muir touched down following a thrilling break by Dow.

England were quickly on the front foot again following a bright start by Wales and quality lineout possession underpinned a try for Aldcroft, meaning that she marked her 50th cap in style.

Aitchison’s conversion made it 12-3 and, although Wales battled hard up front, they were undone by a length-of-the-field attack that led to England’s third try.

Centre Megan Jones was the catalyst, showing great pace as she surged deep inside Wales’ half before quickly-recycled ball saw Botterman charge over. Aitchison’s conversion opened up a 16-point advantage after 24 minutes.

England were on the hunt for a bonus point as the interval approached and it almost arrived when Aitchison kicked to the corner, but Dow narrowly failed to touch down.

Wales then saw their scrum obliterated, allowing England an attacking lineout from the resulting penalty, and pressure inevitably told with a try for hooker Atkin-Davies as the Red Roses took a 24-3 lead into the break.

Kildunne and Dow then put England out of sight and, although Bevan claimed a deserved consolation score for Wales, normal service was resumed through England touchdowns from Galligan and Kildunne.

Ben Foakes will not lose sleep over whether he features in England’s Test plans for this summer.

The Surrey wicketkeeper was back in the England XI for the winter tour of India and once again impressed with his skills behind the stumps, but failed to register a fifty in 10 innings during the 4-1 loss.

Foakes has been in and out of the team since his 2018 Test debut and missed last year’s Ashes after Jonny Bairstow was given keeping duties.

The wicketkeeper berth is seemingly up for grabs ahead of home series with the West Indies and Sri Lanka this summer, but Foakes, who scored 205 runs at an average of 20.5 in India, is relaxed about his position.

“I haven’t been told anything,” Foakes said.

“Obviously the more years I’ve got into my career, the more I’ve been in and out, I’ve almost come to an acceptance that it has been the case and not try to worry about it or stress too much about getting a long run or external stuff.

“India, first and foremost, I took as just trying to really enjoy it. I think the more times you get dropped, the more times you realise you don’t know how long you’ve got left or whatever it might be.

“So while you’re out there, rather than stress too much about the game or this might be my last chance, just enjoy the fact you are playing and you don’t know how long for essentially.”

The series started with a high for Foakes, who shared a crucial 112-run partnership with Ollie Pope in England’s remarkable first Test win in Hyderabad.

A number of other starts with the bat were made by the 31-year-old, but he often batted with the tail and expressed his disappointment after failing to “kick on” during his 47 in Ranchi.

Foakes added: “I felt like I kept pretty well, keeping felt good. To start off, I didn’t feel amazing with the bat and then, yeah, disappointed in a couple of innings that I didn’t kick on.

“Again, that role of batting lower down, batting with the tail, the more I do it, the more I look at it as how many times can I impact?

“Because some series you might not get an opportunity to go big, big for example, so it is very crucial when you do get a chance to try and really kick on, which I was disappointed in the fourth Test where I could have kicked on and didn’t.

“(I’m) still evolving and trying to learn with the tail and how to manage those sort of situations.”

While Foakes bats at seven for England, he has gained the majority of his success for Surrey as one of their top-five batters, which has contributed towards a first-class average of 38.52.

Foakes will aim to be back in the runs next week when Surrey begin their Vitality County Championship title defence with a trip to Lancashire, but he acknowledged the uncertainty over his England place provides one dilemma.

“Every summer in the past, I’ve not known whether I will play so I’ve played every (Surrey) game,” Foakes said.

“I did look at the Test schedule and there would be the chance to play 28 Tests and Champo (games) if I did play from the start of India until the end of New Zealand, obviously depending on selection.

“If that was the case and I did play, that is quite a lot of cricket so there would be potential to have a rest, but again it depends on what they’re looking at. Whether I am likely to play or not and then reassess.”

Rehan Ahmed is relaxed about his potential opportunities over the coming months after enjoying every minute of England duty this winter.

Leicestershire leg-spinner Ahmed became the country’s youngest ever men’s Test player in 2022 when he claimed a five-wicket haul on debut against Pakistan in Karachi, but had to wait a further 14 months for another shot at red-ball cricket for England.

The teenager relished the prospect of doing battle with India and picked up 11 wickets across three Tests.

 

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Ahmed, 19, is refreshed and ready to go again but has not set himself any major summer targets despite a T20 World Cup being on the horizon along with home Test series against West Indies and Pakistan.

“I’m not really fussed about what I’m trying to achieve this year,” Ahmed insisted when asked about the prospect of a home Test debut this summer.

“I’ve tried to do as much as I can within myself. So, whether that’s me getting my overs in, me getting as many runs as I can, because I love my batting and I’ve underperformed; I want to bat better.

“There’s a couple of things I really want to work on and if that takes me there, that takes me there.

“And if it doesn’t, and the balance of the teams is not right and whatnot, there are loads of things to take into account.

“I’ll be playing county cricket straight away. Leicester comes first when I’m not playing for England. I didn’t know if I wanted to play because I wanted a break, but I’ve had two weeks off and I just want to play again.”

Ahmed was part of a novice three-man spin-attack alongside Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir that flourished at times in India, but there are concerns over the number of overs the trio will get during the opening months of the domestic season.

However, the 19-year-old is not about to make any outlandish demands to his Leicestershire coaches over his bowling or batting role in a team-comes-first mentality that clearly owes much to Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum.

He added: “It’s not a case where I come in and bat where I want.

“Obviously I’ve not been here all winter. The lads have been working hard so they deserve it first, so if I make the team and I play, then hopefully I’ll get a bat.

“Bowling in matches is something I’ve lacked a bit. I’ve bowled a lot in white-ball, not heaps of overs in red-ball plus it’s April, going to be nipping round corners.

“I don’t expect to bowl loads of overs because if the seamers are getting wickets, they are getting wickets and the team comes first, but I’ll be bowling loads in training.”

Ahmed is also sure to be bouncing ideas off new buddy Bashir, who may struggle for overs at Somerset, after the pair struck up a close bond during the India tour.

“Bash was unbelievable to be with.  He made the made the trip so (much) fun for me,” Ahmed revealed.

“And his confidence was different level and that’s something I love to see because that’s exactly like how I was as well, we just kept bouncing off each other. It was great.

“I think the way Bash came into the game. Even with Harts coming in, the way I came in, it gives hope for everyone else as well.

“It doesn’t mean you have to bowl a load of overs in the champo and focus on swing and seam.  You just need to be different and be committed to it.”

Stuart Lancaster was appointed head coach of England’s men’s rugby union team on this day in 2012.

The then 42-year-old was permanently appointed following a spell in interim charge during which England finished second in the Six Nations.

Lancaster replaced Martin Johnson in the role after the former England captain resigned in the wake of a disappointing World Cup campaign in 2011.

He was appointed on a four-year contract and would lead England into their home Rugby World Cup in 2015.

“Being head coach of your national team in any sport (is an honour), but to do it at a time when we’ve got a World Cup in our own country is a huge, huge honour,” Lancaster said following his appointment.

“It’s a very proud day for myself and my family, but it’s not about me, it’s about the team and the connection between the team and the English public.”

Lancaster resigned from his role in November 2015 following a dismal World Cup campaign.

His side became the first host nation to fail to get out of the pool stages following defeats to Wales and Australia.

He now coaches French Top 14 side Racing 92.

Zak Crawley insists England will not adopt a “negative” approach after their recent 4-1 series defeat in India but acknowledged they must learn when to absorb pressure.

India inflicted the first series loss of the Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum era after they stormed back from going one down in Hyderabad to win the last four Tests in comprehensive fashion.

It sparked debate over England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ style following a string of batting collapses and head coach McCullum accepted they had to refine their style moving forward.

Crawley said: “We always talk about absorbing pressure and putting pressure back on.

“The last couple of years we’ve done the putting pressure back on pretty well and we’ve spoken about maybe picking those moments to absorb at the right times as well. We can certainly refine that.

“That’s not to say we’re going to get more negative. We will still try to play the way we have and try to score quickly but yeah, picking those moments where they’re on top and we need to absorb.

“Or even the other way where they’re on top and you feel like you need to put it back on. It is just getting it right.

“(Stokes) spoke about it after the series where we need a little bit of refinement. It is not big changes.

“We just need to make sure we stay positive and don’t let a tough result get in the way of what we’re done really well over the last couple of years.”

England’s strategy of moving the game forward quickly with higher run-rates and early declarations took the cricket world by storm as they won 10 of their first 11 Tests under Stokes and McCullum.

However, seven defeats have followed from the next 12 matches and a lack of a ruthless streak has cost England at times.

After England posted a first innings total of 353 in the fourth Test in Ranchi, they reduced India to 177 for seven but let the hosts off the hook and, instead of setting up a series decider, they crumbled to a crushing five-wicket defeat.

“We genuinely believed in ourselves and thought we could win the series,” Crawley, speaking at a sponsors event for Swiss watch brand Rado, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s official timing partner, admitted.

“We should have won in Ranchi, I think, to make it 2-2 and then you never know how the last one goes.

“When the series goes like that, it is always hard to wrestle the momentum back but we were in the series massively and we always believed.

“We certainly weren’t in the games when I was in India last time (in 2021), so we gave ourselves a good chance and we weren’t quite clinical enough like they were.

“Over five days, their skills are always going to come out and they are a phenomenal team. It was a really enjoyable tour though, we gave it a good crack and there is a lot to learn from.”

A beacon of light again for England was Crawley, who for the second series in a row led the scoring charts for his team.

The Kent batter was notably labelled as a player whose “skillset is not to be a consistent cricketer” by McCullum in 2022.

 

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A string of low scores increased the external noise around his position prior to last summer’s Ashes but the 26-year-old always retained the faith of England’s key decision-makers.

Now, 12 months on, Crawley has hit seven 50+ scores and averaged 46.7 against the two best attacks in the world, which included a sensational 189 at Old Trafford last July.

“I feel in a lot better place than I was,” Crawley added.

“I’m not trying to put too much pressure on any games to be honest. When I am playing for England or for Kent, I just try and turn up with the same process.

“I am trying to embrace failure more and accepting it is part of the game and sticking with what I do well.”

Jamie George has been enlisted to help preparations for England’s Guinness Women’s Six Nations clash with Wales after volunteering his services to head coach John Mitchell.

Fresh from leading the England men’s team in an encouraging Championship, George worked with Red Roses hookers Lark Atkin-Davies, Connie Powell, Amy Cokayne and May Campbell at their Surrey training base on Wednesday.

Mitchell struck up a close relationship with the 90-cap Saracens star during his time as Eddie Jones’ assistant and the Kiwi hopes it will be the start of greater knowledge sharing between the senior teams.

“I worked with Jamie before and this wasn’t forced or coerced by me. I’ve kept in touch since my departure as a coach and wished him well for the Six Nations,” Mitchell said.

“When I got this role he said if you ever any help just sing out. He was the one who actually encouraged it for this situation. We’ve made it work and I think the girls have enjoyed it.”

England captain Marlie Packer knows George from Saracens, who she has represented since 2017, and sees the benefit of skills swapping with members of Steve Borthwick’s squad.

“The girls really enjoyed it. We don’t want to force it because the men have their own programmes, the same as us, so the timing needs to be right for both,” Packer said.

“We also have that club connection as well, Jamie has been doing some work with me at Saracens. It’s not just about the red roses, I know Bristol Bears do a lot with their men.”

Mitchell has rotated his squad for Saturday’s clash with Wales at Ashton Gate by making seven changes following the 48-0 thumping of Italy in round one.

Centres Tatyana Heard and Megan Jones, half-backs Natasha Hunt and Holly Aitchison, prop Maud Muir, lock Rosie Galligan and number eight Alex Matthews are the new faces.

Back row Sarah Beckett is unavailable until the final match of the tournament against France after receiving a three-match ban for a dangerous clear out against Italy, but Mitchell confirmed she will come into consideration for that game.

Second row Zoe Aldcroft will win her 50th cap after being one of the eight players retained in the starting XV.

“Zoe is a massive competitor. She’s like a little springer spaniel in training! When she speaks, the girls listen,” Packer said.

“Everyone knows she’s world class in everything she does and how she goes about her business.”

UEFA will consider a possible increase in the size of squads for Euro 2024 at a meeting next month.

A number of coaches have called on European football’s governing body to allow countries to take 26 players to Germany instead of 23, a move England boss Gareth Southgate may be glad to accept as he deals with a number of injuries.

“We have taken note of comments expressed by some national team coaches on the squad size for Euro 2024,” UEFA said in a statement released on Friday.

“A workshop with the participating teams will be held on 8 April and on that occasion UEFA will listen to the views of the coaches.

“Any idea in this respect will then be considered and assessed.”

This summer’s finals is the first time since the 2018 World Cup that national team managers are having to pick a 23-man squad for a major tournament after it was expanded to 26 following the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking after his side’s 2-2 draw with Belgium at Wembley, Southgate said: “It seems to be (settled at 23).

“There is one more UEFA meeting where there’s been a little bit of talk amongst some of the coaches about possibly increasing that.”

That meeting will be part of a wider finalists’ workshop on April 8 and 9 in Dusseldorf, where Southgate will not push for 26 but will accept it if the decision goes that way.

Southgate, who has previously said it is a “bigger skill to pick a 23”, was asked if he was in favour of a move to an expanded selection and said with a smile: “Well, given where we are now!

“We’ve got to make the best decisions with what we know and some of those currently are going to be medical decisions.

“And we’ve been able to get those right in the previous tournaments. We’ve been able to give people time, but with 23 that’s definitely more difficult.”

Previous expanded selections allowed Southgate to take a calculated gamble on the fitness of Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson at Euro 2020 as the pair recovered from injury.

The same went for Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips at the 2022 World Cup as they worked their way back to fitness, with injured duo Luke Shaw and Reece James potential beneficiaries if it goes to 26 this time.

James Maddison is eager to have an opportunity to show Gareth Southgate what he can do in an England shirt – but insists he is old enough now to not sulk when he does not start.

The Tottenham playmaker will be hopeful of a place in Southgate’s Euro 2024 squad when it is announced in May, having made an eye-catching cameo appearance in the 2-2 draw with Belgium on Tuesday.

After sitting out the loss to Brazil, Maddison came on to tee up Jude Bellingham for the last-gasp equaliser against the Red Devils.

It was Maddison’s sixth England cap, but he has never completed a full 90 minutes for the senior side.

Asked if he was happy to be able to make an impact, the former Leicester player said: “Yes, but we’ve got 26 players who are capable of that.

“There is big competition, a lot of quality in the squad. You have to make sure when you are called upon, you have to go and do the business.

“I don’t lack the confidence and belief in myself to do that, but you still have to go and do it, you have to produce. I just want that opportunity, I want that time on the pitch, because I know what I’m capable of.

“It’s not the be-all and end-all that I got an assist. I know the quality that I have and possess and that can help this team, most definitely. You’ve also got to show it and you have also got to have the opportunity to show it.

“I didn’t feature in the first game, which was disappointing because I wanted to play in a big game at Wembley.

“I came on (against Belgium) and made an impact. I’m showing him (Southgate) what I’m capable of and I just want to show more of that.”

Maddison explained how he had watched from the bench against Belgium, seeing the spaces in which he felt he could operate.

While he is plotting and planning, though, he also admits to being frustrated at not being on the pitch.

“Grumpy. Very, very, very grumpy is the first thing I’d say,” he replied when asked what he is like sat on the bench.

“But once you accept the fact you’re on the bench. I’m experienced now, I’m 27. On the odd occasion when I was younger, I’d be sulking, I’d be moody, probably not go about it the right way as a teenage James Maddison.

“Now I’m older, I just assess the game and see where I can have an impact. I noticed here there was a lot of space between the lines.

“Their midfield started really strong but it looked like they tired – it’s a big pitch, Wembley – and I knew I’d be able to have an impact. So I studied the little pockets, I got on and managed to make it work.”

There is fierce competition for a place in England’s Euro 2024 squad and the self-confident Maddison is now targeting a good end to the campaign with Spurs to aid his cause.

“I don’t feel any pressure. Once you’re away from here you can only play well for your club,” he said.

“I’ve been in the squad for 18 months now. I feel really at home. I have got a great relationship with all the staff and the players.”

Making it to Germany would give Maddison a chance to play in a major tournament after a niggling knee injury saw him miss England’s 2022 World Cup campaign despite being part of the squad in Qatar.

“That was a very difficult time, what people don’t see behind the curtain,” he said.

“I had an injury that I just couldn’t shake off. I got myself back training after the group stages but I wasn’t really right.

“I was so disappointed, because going to a major tournament with your country is the pinnacle and you want to impact. I’m hungry to get there now.”

Joe Cole feels like “the time is now” as England head into this summer’s European Championship.

Gareth Southgate is preparing to take charge of his fourth and potentially last major tournament, having reached the World Cup semi-finals and quarter-finals as well as a continental final.

England’s agonising penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 showpiece remains raw but has only increased the squad’s desire to go one better in Germany.

Cole believes those shared experiences are indicating this can be “a real positive summer”, with the former international excited by what Southgate’s side can achieve.

“Listen, they were penalty kicks away from winning a tournament,” the former England international told the PA news agency. “There’s been semi-finals, quarter-finals – the experience is there now.

“They have got young players in the squad, but they’re so experienced and so knowledgeable, as a team and as a group. You know, I think the time is now.

“The only difference going into this tournament is there’s a little bit more expectation on them and it’s how do they cope with that, but I think they’ve got the right manager for that.

“I think Gareth will manage the anxieties of the squad – of the team – and just keep them focused on the task in hand.

“I think Gareth is in the right place. Very, very good character in that situation. I think it actually sort of would benefit to have someone of his character there.”

Cole is well placed to analyse England’s chances having represented his country 56 times and worked as a pundit throughout the build-up to Euro 2024.

The retired creative midfielder is also a former international team-mate of Southgate, who he believes deserves more appreciation for the job he has done in charge of the men’s team.

“Factually, Gareth Southgate is the most successful England manager since Alf Ramsey,” Cole said.

“If you’re going to have a discussion with someone and anyone’s picking holes out of it, that is the facts.

“He’s taken the team deeper in tournaments than anyone and he’s just underappreciated. Underappreciated the job he’s done.”

Cole – who has signed up to play in Soccer Aid for UNICEF on June 9 – was in the same 2002 World Cup squad as Southgate and part of the last England side to play in a major tournament in Germany.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s much-hyped ‘Golden Generation’ bowed out in the quarter-final stage of the 2006 World Cup and Cole believes things are better for the national team this time around.

“It’s a different landscape,” Cole said. “We had different problems to deal with than this group of players.

“When you go into a tournament, you need moments to happen for you. Every tournament we played in, it was either a penalty shoot-out or it was a sending off or an injury.

“These big moments went against us, but ultimately I feel this group are better educated from a footballing perspective.

“I feel where we are in England – in terms of how we play football – is the right way now.

“I feel for many, many years, we weren’t playing in the right way tactically, so I think this group have been brought up under a different system. Underneath it all, I think ultimately they’re better equipped because of that.”

England continued their Euro 2024 preparations with Saturday’s late 1-0 loss to Brazil and even later Jude Bellingham goal in the 2-2 draw with Belgium three days later.

Southgate’s side have two further warm-up friendlies against Bosnia and Iceland in June, with the squad due to fly out to Germany the day after Cole pulls on an England shirt once again in Soccer Aid.

“It’s always nice to go back and play at Stamford Bridge,” he said of the June 9 clash against a World XI at former club Chelsea.

“It always surprises me how popular it is. The kids love it, people tune in, it’s a real family occasion.

“It’s great to be part of and it’s just one of them things that’s a win-win all round for everybody. We love doing it and most importantly it’s for a great cause.”

:: Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2024 takes place on June 9 at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, with tickets available at www.socceraid.org.uk/tickets

Gareth Southgate has plenty to mull over as he weighs up England’s options and issues ahead of selecting his European Championship squad.

The Euro 2020 runners-up will announce an expanded provisional group on May 21 and have until late on June 7 to submit their final 23-man squad to UEFA.

Following the final two friendlies before Southgate’s selection, the PA news agency takes a look at how the England boss likely sees his options.

GOALKEEPERS

On the plane: Jordan Pickford (Everton).

In the departure lounge: Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace) and Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal).

Hoping for a late ticket: Jack Butland (Rangers), Dean Henderson (Crystal Palace), Nick Pope (Newcastle) and James Trafford (Burnley).

Pickford has been England’s number one for the last three major tournaments and that will continue in Germany. Ramsdale appeared his closest contender but is now clinging onto a squad spot having been usurped as Arsenal’s number one. Johnstone is the likely number three, especially with Pope injured.

DEFENDERS

On the plane: Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle) and Kyle Walker (Manchester City).

In the departure lounge: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United).

Hoping for a late ticket: Jarrad Branthwaite (Everton), Eric Dier (Bayern Munich, loan), Rico Lewis (Manchester City), Tino Livramento (Newcastle), Reece James (Chelsea), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan).

Ignoring boarding calls: Ben White (Arsenal).

Maguire, Stones, Walker and Trippier have been to every major tournament under Southgate and are set to be on the plane once more, assuming they are fit.

Guehi missed March’s games with an issue of his own, but Southgate is confident his third-choice centre-back will be fit for the summer. Konsa and Dunk are pushing for the fourth spot. The latter impressed during his first England appearances this week, whereas Dunk’s stock dropped with a costly error in each friendly.

Branthwaite received his first call-up but did not feature, while Gomez and Colwill – who missed this camp through a toe complaint – would offer versatility to a 23-man squad.

James faces a race against time to be involved but left-back is a more pressing issue. Chilwell improved against Belgium after a poor performance against Brazil. Shaw is Southgate’s first choice but is a doubt for the Euros given he is not due to return to fitness until May.

White would likely be going to a third straight tournament had he not snubbed an England call-up this month.

MIDFIELDERS

On the plane: Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Ajax), James Maddison (Tottenham) and Declan Rice (Arsenal).

In the departure lounge: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) and Kobbie Mainoo (Manchester United).

Hoping for a late ticket: Mason Mount (Manchester United) and Kalvin Phillips (West Ham, loan).

Real Madrid star Bellingham and Arsenal man Rice are shoo-ins. Barring injuries and a woeful end to the season, vice-captain Henderson will join them whatever onlookers think of that. Gallagher appears to have also rubberstamped his spot along with Maddison.

Beyond that, though, there is a lot up in the air. Injury denied Southgate the chance to see Alexander-Arnold in midfield against high-level opposition in a month when 18-year-old Mainoo impressively staked his claim, earning the man of the match award on his first start against Belgium.

Phillips, overlooked for this squad after a disastrous start to life on loan at West Ham, is running out of time to earn a recall. Southgate says Mount is an outside bet.

FORWARDS

On the plane: Phil Foden (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich) and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal).

In the departure lounge: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), Anthony Gordon (Newcastle) Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Cole Palmer (Chelsea), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Ivan Toney (Brentford) and Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa).

Hoping for a late ticket: Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace), Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea) and Callum Wilson (Newcastle)

In Kane, Saka and Foden, the England boss has three starters, never mind selections. It gets tougher after that due to the competition for spots.

Southgate warned at his squad unveiling that established Rashford and Grealish had a battle on their hands for a place at the Euros – a fight that increased after new boy Gordon impressed and Bowen put in his best performance yet against Belgium. Injury denied Palmer the chance to truly shine this month, but he is another knocking at the door. Chelsea team-mate Sterling looks set for a summer off.

Toney scored a penalty as he won his second cap on Tuesday and may have just edged ahead of Watkins in the race to be Kane’s back-up. Solanke is the next cab off the rank behind those two.

Gareth Southgate will name his provisional squad for Euro 2024 on May 21 as he looks to lead England to glory in Germany.

While domestic football returns to the fore this weekend, Southgate has plenty to ponder after the March international break saw England lose to Brazil and secure a last-gasp 2-2 draw with Belgium.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key considerations for Southgate before a ball is kicked in Germany.

Injury worries

Southgate was unable to call on a host of injured players for the Brazil and Belgium fixtures, while more were then forced to pull out during the camp. Captain and all-time leading goalscorer Harry Kane and reigning England player of the year Bukayo Saka were among them, but it was defensively where Southgate’s squad was hardest hit. The defence which ended the game against Belgium did not contain a single player who would arguably be in the side to face Serbia in England’s Euro 2024 opener, so Southgate will be closely monitoring the fitness of the likes of Luke Shaw, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and John Stones.

Forward thinking

An ankle injury saw Kane miss the Brazil defeat before he returned to Bayern Munich for treatment. The England skipper will no doubt be the main man through the middle this summer, fitness permitting, but the job of supporting role is another which could go to the wire. Only Erling Haaland has scored more than the 16 Premier League goals notched by Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins so far this season, while Ivan Toney marked his first England start with a goal from the penalty spot against Belgium and those two seem to be battling it out for the back-up role across the remainder of the campaign.

The Mainoo man

All things being equal, there are not many places up for grabs in Southgate’s preferred starting XI. But the third member of a midfield trio which will no doubt include Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham is a spot that will be considered by Southgate and his coaching staff in the coming months. Manchester United teenager Kobbie Mainoo shone on his full debut against Belgium, while Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Maddison – to name but a few – will all have hopes of impressing Southgate sufficiently enough to earn the shirt.

High-profile absentees?

It would have seemed ludicrous last summer to suggest treble-winning Manchester City forward Jack Grealish could miss out on a place at the Euros. Fitness, form and a lack of minutes this season, however, could see the £100million man fall between the cracks of Southgate’s squad, especially with the fierce competition in the wide areas. The same could be said of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, a long-time favourite of Southgate, but who played just 15 minutes across both March friendlies and is another whose inconsistencies at club level could cost him dear.

The future

Southgate’s own future has already been the subject of much speculation. His current deal with the Football Association runs until the end of the year and he has already been linked with the top job at Manchester United. Southgate, however, has stressed he will not speak to any interested parties until after Euro 2024 and branded the United reports “completely disrespectful” to Erik ten Hag. “I’ve got one job, basically, to try and deliver a European Championship,” he said.

Gareth Southgate says he is facing a “complicated” Euro 2024 selection choice given England’s potential fitness and availability issues heading into the summer.

This is the first time since the 2018 World Cup that the 57-cap former defender is having to pick a 23-man squad for a major tournament after it was expanded to 26 following the coronavirus pandemic.

But Southgate could name even more than that at the provisional squad announcement on May 21 as the England boss will have injury concerns to deal with and the late arrival of key players.

The final squad is not due to be submitted to UEFA until June 8, but some may not even have joined up with the team by that point due to cup finals, denting numbers for the warm-up friendlies against Bosnia and Iceland.

Asked how many extra headaches returning to a 23-man squad will throw up given the issues he is juggling, Southgate said: “Yeah, it’s going to be complicated, because firstly the injury situations that we have.

“Some will be back playing at the weekend, some will be back playing in a couple of weeks, some will be really close to the end of the season.

“Then we’re going to have the European finals, the FA Cup final and the two friendlies that we’ve got ourselves.

“It’s inevitable we’re going to be naming a longer squad, which is what we did before the Euros here even though we were dealing with 26 then.

“We really don’t know (how many will be in the provisional squad) because there are so many questions on the injuries at the moment.

“But we’ve gained valuable information about so many players this this week.”

Absentee-hit England suffered their first defeat in 15 months in Saturday’s late 1-0 loss Brazil at Wembley, where Jude Bellingham scored an even later goal to salvage a 2-2 draw against Belgium three days later.

Southgate had to experiment far more than he expected during the friendly double-header due an unprecedented injury list that left him without a third of the 40-odd players on his long list against Brazil.

Bukayo Saka, Harry Kane, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and Sam Johnstone all withdrew from the squad over the course of the camp, with Jordan Henderson unable to feature in either match.

“I had a plan on Saturday night for Tuesday that got blown apart in 12 hours, so to have a plan for something in two and a half months’ time at the moment is faintly ridiculous.” Southgate said.

“We know some of the core parts of that, we know who’s been able to play at that level, who our very best players are.

“And the rest, we’ve got a lot clearer picture of what people are capable of from the two games that we’ve played.

“We’re just going to see how people are when they come back into form, whether they can do that fitness-wise with their clubs.”

Anthony Gordon, Ezri Konsa and Kobbie Mainoo all made their debuts over recent days, with Ivan Toney registering his first goal – from the penalty spot – against Belgium on his first international start.

The quartet boosted their chances of making the plane to Germany, with 18-year-old Mainoo’s stock arguably growing the highest.

The Manchester United talent staked his claim for a midfield spot with out-of-sorts Kalvin Phillips omitted, Trent Alexander-Arnold injured and Henderson unavailable.

Mainoo won his first cap off the bench against Brazil and, just four months after making his first Premier League start, was named player of the match for his display on his full England debut on Tuesday.

“He gives us a different profile of midfield player to anything else we’ve got,” Southgate said.

“He’s adapted and adjusted brilliantly. You can’t believe his age, really, that he’s just taking it all in his stride as he has.”

Asked if he was confident Mainoo could shut out the noise after such an impressive full debut, he said: “I think, firstly, he seems very mature, very calm. He knows he’s making his way.

“We’re absolutely delighted with what he’s done, first and foremost, and then there’s a lot of the season still to be played with his club.”

Ivan Toney scored on his first England start in the friendly draw with Belgium and is now aiming to make up for lost time by securing a place at Euro 2024.

The Brentford striker won and scored a penalty either side of a Youri Tielemans brace for the visitors, who looked on course for a Wembley win before Jude Bellingham’s last-gasp effort secured a 2-2 draw.

It was Toney’s full England debut and just his second cap, coming exactly a year after his first.

For the majority of that year Toney was sidelined through suspension, having been banned for eight months after breaching Football Association betting rules.

He returned to action for Brentford in January and has scored four goals for the Bees since, while England boss Gareth Southgate kept a watching brief.

“It was always going to be hard to watch knowing I should have been there,” Toney said of England games he missed while banned.

“But that’s done and dusted now. I can’t change it. There’s no point dwelling on something I can’t change because it’ll just hurt me even more.

“But hopefully I can make the Euros squad and put things right. I try to be confident, but let’s see what happens.”

There was a long delay between Toney winning the spot-kick for a foul by Jan Vertonghen and then coolly converting from 12 yards.

For Toney, though, the outcome of the penalty was never in doubt.

“It felt very good,” he told BeIN Sports.

“This morning I spoke to my friends and I said I feel a penalty today and when I ran in behind, I felt the contact and there was no doubt that it was a penalty.

“So it is just patience, really – wait for the keeper to get on the line and do what I do best.

“I practise them all the time, every day and just pretend it is a training pitch and put in the back of the net and I’ve done that.”

While Toney impressed and got off the mark for England, there were other standout displays.

Manchester United teenager Kobbie Mainoo’s midfield performance was particularly eye-catching, while Jarrod Bowen enjoyed arguably his best night in an England shirt too.

The 27-year-old West Ham forward looked sharp on his seventh cap but saw his first England goal chalked off when VAR ruled him offside as he headed home in the first half.

Bowen is also hopeful of squeezing into Southgate’s ranks in Germany.

“There is no question I want it more than ever,” he told BBC Radio 5Live. “The main thing now is to go back to West Ham, hit the ground running there, keep doing what I’ve been doing all season and hope I get the opportunity.

“There is a lot of football to be played before that squad is named. I have been in a good place this season and the main thing was to continue to do what I’ve been doing.”

England’s all-time record scorer Harry Kane opened his international goal account within 80 seconds of making a “dream” debut on this day in 2015.

Kane netted almost immediately after coming on as a 70th-minute substitute against Lithuania at Wembley, wrapping up a 4-0 win with a thumping far-post header.

The then 21-year-old, who had already scored 29 goals for Tottenham that season, was given a standing ovation as he took to the field and it did not take him long to get the sell-out crowd back on their feet as, with one of his first touches, he found the back of the net.

Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling scored England’s other goals, but the headlines belonged to Kane after a one-sided Euro 2016 qualifier.

Asked if he knew how long he had taken to get off the mark, Kane said: “Maybe a minute? Eighty seconds? Hey, it’s not too bad!

“It’s the start I dreamed of, it’s a little bit of a blur at the minute. It’s the best moment by far, to represent your country at senior level is the top. Hopefully I can keep doing it and it’s the first of many.”

It was a dream start which impressed then England captain Rooney – a man who knew a thing about coping with pressure and scoring goals and whose national-record of 53 goals Kane surpassed in March 2023.

“It’s fantastic, international football’s different and to score after 80 seconds is incredible for Harry,” he told ITV. “We’re all delighted and hopefully it’s the first of many.”

All those involved were quick to try and keep a lid on expectations, but given Kane now stands alone at the top of England’s goalscoring charts, they clearly knew what they were seeing.

“It is fantastic for Harry,” manager Roy Hodgson said. “We’re so delighted for him. It is a bit of a fairytale, but it’s nice when fairytales come true and it’s come true for Harry.”

“He’s crowned his England debut with a well-taken goal. Couldn’t be better really. It’s a very satisfying evening for us. I think it’s too early to put this pressure on Harry Kane. We should just be happy that he has done so well for Tottenham and made a name for himself to get into the England set-up.

“That’s not easy to do as we have a number of good forwards but let’s be happy with that and leave the future predictions to the future.”

Gareth Southgate praised Jude Bellingham’s never-say-die attitude after saving England from defeat against Belgium at the end of an international break that provides plenty of food for thought ahead of the Euros.

Among the favourites for glory this summer, the side third in FIFA’s world rankings stepped up preparations with a pair of high-level friendlies against the nations directly behind them in those standings.

Brazil are fifth and struck late on Saturday to inflict a first defeat on England in 15 months, which fourth-placed Belgium looked set to compound at rainy Wembley three days later.

Youri Tielemans opened the scoring after a Jordan Pickford error, with a Lewis Dunk mistake resulting in the Aston Villa midfielder scoring again after Ivan Toney had converted a penalty on his first senior start.

Fellow full debutants Ezri Konsa and, in particular, 18-year-old Kobbie Mainoo also impressed in a friendly that ended 2-2 after Bellingham struck at the end of second half stoppage time.

“I liked it because I know the rubbish we would have got if we lost two games on the bounce,” the Real Madrid midfielder told Channel 4.

“These are two games that are going to stand us in good stead going into the Euros. I know people will be negative but you have to take these games for what they are.

“You’ve got to keep perspective. We had a lot of lads making debuts (this week) and a lot of lads I’ve never played with. We created a lot of chances. I should have scored (previously). I was happy I could make it up to the team.”

England boss Southgate told the post-match press conference: “Jude, of course, is the headline.

“That competitive spirit, that desire not to lose, desire to win in the end, was decisive in getting the late goal.

“But I thought the whole team showed that throughout the game and recovered from setbacks with a pretty inexperienced team, really, against a team that have got some very, very good players. Very pleased with a lot of what I saw tonight.”

Bellingham pulled the Euro 2024 hopefuls through at the end of a challenging international meet-up marred by injuries.

John Stones joined England’s eye-watering absentee list when limping off with an adductor issue within 10 minutes on Tuesday, when Mainoo’s man-of-the-match performance was among a number of impressive displays.

“The great thing is definitely some players have emerged positively from the opportunities they’ve had,” Southgate said reflecting on the Brazil and Belgium friendlies.

“We’ve perhaps got more depth in one respect, but the injuries are a concern. We’ve got so many players missing at the moment, and we’ve still got the real heat of the season to come, with the intensity of the games, what’s resting on the games.

“We’re not going to know what we’re left with until right until the end but we’ll just have to make the best decisions that we possibly can.”

Southgate praised Toney, Jarrod Bowen and James Maddison for their attacking impact against Belgium, while Anthony Gordon has also earned plaudits during the week.

Southgate has plenty to mull over ahead of announcing his provisional squad on May 21, which has to be whittled down to a 23-man group by June 8.

“In terms of knowing the 23, there’s so many unknowns at the moment in terms of who might be available,” Southgate said.

“So, yes, these performances were very important for players to be able to see whether or not they could play against high level opposition.

“But equally the way they play between now and the end of the season with their club, in big matches is going to have a high tariff as well so we will track all of that.”

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