Marcus Smith's England demotion is no surprise for France clash

CHRIS FOY: Marcus Smith is too talented to be ignored forever, but his England demotion comes as no surprise… Steve Borthwick holds George Ford in higher esteem and he looks set to get the nod for ‘Le Crunch’ with France

  • Smith dropping out of England team has been on the cards since Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones as coach
  • Jones insisted the 10-12 axis of Smith and Owen Farrell would offer creativity
  • But the combination never sparked and Borthwick will turn to George Ford again 

There will be howls of outrage, but Marcus Smith’s abrupt fall down the England playmaker pecking order is no shock. It has been on the cards since Steve Borthwick took charge.

The new head coach has a high regard for George Ford, who is now likely to feature against France in round four of the Six Nations. 

It was inevitable that the 29-year-old fly-half would be reintegrated once he had overcome the serious Achilles injury which he suffered in last year’s Premiership Final. 

Borthwick was the architect of Leicester’s title triumph and Ford brought his vision to life as the on-field master conductor. Their bond of mutual respect is strong.

During the last autumn Test campaign at Twickenham, Eddie Jones remained adamant that the 10-12 axis of Smith and captain Owen Farrell was the ideal creative hub for his Red Rose team. 

Marcus Smith will have to wait patiently for another opportunity after his England demotion

The Owen Farrell-Smith combination didn’t spark as England might have expected 

But the partnership failed to click and the attack didn’t ignite with the contrasting pair pulling the strings.

Once the Australian had been removed from his post and replaced by Borthwick, there was soon a sense that he had an alternative midfield vision. 

He spoke repeatedly about the need for clarity and the Smith-Farrell combination was providing no such thing. Borthwick appeared to settle on restoring the skipper at fly-half until a raft of injuries to centre contenders disrupted his plans.

So Smith kept the No 10 shirt against Scotland and brilliantly conjured a try for Max Malins, but the defeat in that Calcutta Cup encounter signalled the early end of the playmaker partnership. 

It had been an enforced arrangement and Borthwick looked elsewhere for balance. 

Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade have provided that in the subsequent two games, with the former adding an explosive dimension even if England have still been laboured and structured overall.

Now, the official line is that Smith is not taking part in this week’s Red Rose training camp in his home town, at his old school – Brighton College, where he first caught the eye of Jones in 2015 – due to an urgent need for game-time with Harlequins. 

George Ford (left) now looks set to get the nod when England take on France in the Six Nations

Ford and coach Steve Borthwick have a good rapport from their time together at Leicester 

That does stack up to a degree, as he went from playing 80 minutes against Scotland to just eight against Italy, before coming on with a mere 14 seconds to go in last Saturday’s win over Wales in Cardiff.

However, Smith had re-established personal momentum coming into the championship with two full-80 appearances for Harlequins in the Heineken Champions Cup, on his return from injury. 

So he had amassed 240 minutes in the space of four weekends before his recent, fleeting cameos. 

In contrast, Ford has played just 151 minutes this season for Sale – and Courtney Lawes made a comeback against Wales after no rugby for a month and just 170 minutes in the 2022-23 campaign.

Even if Smith lights up Twickenham in the multi-colours of Quins on Saturday, in a league fixture against Exeter, there is now a strong sense that Ford has pushed ahead of him. 

There are two likely selection scenarios next week and neither of them include the popular prodigy.

Smith will return to club duties with Harlequins and will play at Twickenham in the league

Borthwick could keep the same 10-12-13 combination of Farrell, Lawrence and Slade against France, with Ford primed to add experience and nous from the bench. 

Or the head coach may even consider reuniting Ford and Farrell in tandem, although there is less prospect of that at this stage.

In his previous guise as an England assistant coach, Borthwick has seen first-hand how the close friends can work well together – with Farrell at inside centre – notably in the semi-final win over New Zealand at the last World Cup. 

Further back, in 2017, they orchestrated a 61-21 drubbing of Scotland at Twickenham as Jonathan Joseph claimed a hat-trick and there were seven tries in all scored by the hosts.

Jonathan Joseph was in sensational form when England thrashed Scotland back in 2017

For Smith, there will be an overwhelming mood of frustration, but he will need to respond with patience and perseverance. He has too much talent to be ignored forever. 

If he is left out of the matchday 23 to take on France – as must now be expected – he should set his sights on the pre-World Cup training camp, in the hope of making the cut for the global showpiece.

During that tournament, Farrell will celebrate his 32nd birthday, while Smith has just turned 24. For the younger man, it may be that ultimate career fulfilment eludes him until he is no longer operating in the shadow of the Test-centurion captain.

Source: Read Full Article