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Borthwick explains Tuilagi recall, ignores Farrell for Smith query

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Steve Borthwick has described Manu Tuilagi as a fantastic player to come into this week’s England team to face Ireland, but he refused to specifically address why he has decided to bench Marcus Smith and reinstate skipper Owen Farrell as the starting England No10.

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The rookie head coach has been picking up the pieces following last weekend’s record 53-10 home defeat to France, but preparations for England’s final match in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations haven’t gone smoothly.

Having lost first-choice lock Ollie Chessum to a training ground injury on Tuesday, Borthwick’s England encountered another midweek hiccup when their flight from London to Dublin on Thursday was delayed and his planned 6:15pm media briefing at their Stillorgan hotel was held back for 56 minutes.

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Borthwick had publicly confirmed his starting England XV while on route to the Irish capital, picking Tuilagi, Henry Arundell, Farrell and David Ribbans in place of the injured Ollie Lawrence, the excluded Max Malins, the benched Smith and the unavailable Chessum – and when his briefing did eventually get going, he was soon asked about the recall of Tuilagi, whose record versus Ireland is six wins and zero defeats, and Farrell.

“Clearly, Ollie Lawrence had an injury late in the game last week so was unavailable for selection this week, and Manu, having served his suspension, was then available for selection and was able to come into that role,” he explained.

“I would have loved Ollie to be available but he wasn’t. He has played really well playing in his first substantial Six Nations. What a fantastic player we have in Manu to come and join the team and step straight in. He has been training with us consistently, so he is eager for this opportunity… We are very privileged to have a player of Manu’s ability.

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“Regarding the change at 10, as always I pick a team that I think is the right team for the game we are going to play, the plan we wish to try and bring into the game against a specific opposition.”

Asked how Smith was coping with his latest ejection from the starting England XV after his recall to start against the French didn’t work out and resulted in him dropping back into the replacements, Borthwick avoided the question.

“Everybody around the team, players, coaches, everyone in the management team found last week’s result and performance painful,” he deflected. “It hurts. Every one of us has worked this week together to get an improved performance on Saturday.”

Borthwick also later refused to give a response to a query about whether Farrell had missed training during the week due to injury, plainly insisting the skipper was 100 per cent fit.

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The coach had hoped pre-championship that his first campaign at the helm would result in a title showdown in Dublin with Ireland. However, having lost two of their four games, England are instead playing for a minor placing and the coach suggested fallout from last weekend’s record loss to France left no hiding place.

“We would all love to be eagerly anticipating a game in which England would compete with Ireland for the championship on the final day,” he said. “Unfortunately, that has not proven to be the case at this stage of our development.

“The performance last week was not good enough and there have been a number of forthright conversations in the review of that game. We are now looking forward to testing our capabilities against the No1 side in the world in what promises to be a really exciting game on Saturday.

“The performance needs to substantially improve from where it was last week. We know we are playing against the best side in the world, so we are looking to test ourselves in what is going to be a fantastic atmosphere.

“We discussed the manner in which the contact area last week was dominated by France both in attack and defence, which makes it very hard to impose our plan. Ireland are clearly a well-organised, drilled side.

“They have been working together for a number of seasons now, so we know we are going to have to be very good in all aspects of the game to be able to compete and get ourselves in a position to win the Test match.”

As for no one giving England any hope of achieving an upset result against title favourites Ireland, the England coach reckoned: “We are excited by this game. We believe in what we are trying to do. We understand we have a lot of work to do. We knew that going into last week’s game.

“I was very upfront pre- and post-game about the gap. Our job this week is to keep trying to accelerate our development. We have a lot of catching up to do and we are excited about this game. We know they [Ireland] are a very good side, but we have got a lot of very good players in our team as well.”

Could England really fix things in a week? “You have to identify what the priorities are and when you have a defeat and a performance at the level that was last week, you have got to work to ensure that you are focusing on the main things to improve.  

“I look at the steps in development we have tried to make through this championship, playing against No2 team in the world last week and I have been very upront about the nature of that game. Now we focus on playing against the best side in the world and we will come out of this with a clear understanding of where we are at and we need to be doing.”

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