Don't mind Borthwick, dropping Farrell is a big deal - Andy Goode
Steve Borthwick can play it down as much as he wants but dropping Owen Farrell to the bench is the biggest call an England head coach has made for quite a while.
The last time Farrell was a replacement was against the USA at the 2019 World Cup and he has started at either fly half or centre whenever he has been fit and available since then, so it’s a huge call whichever way you look at it.
It isn’t the end for Farrell, who will no doubt have a key role to play when he comes on, by any means and you have to take Borthwick at his word that he has picked a team specifically to win this game but he might have a battle to get back in if Marcus Smith excels.
The England head coach was accustomed to chopping and changing and looking at the opposition a lot when it came to selection when he was Leicester boss and not many head coaches do it at international level, especially not at fly half, so it’s a bold call.
The number 10 is the fulcrum of the team and you want them to have control of the game plan and their fingerprints all over everything so the fact that Farrell has been starting and George Ford has been in camp does have the potential to cause confusion but you have to hope that everyone understands their roles and has clarity.
Of course, the other by-product of dropping the captain is it does send a message that nobody is untouchable and that is absolutely a good thing and something that hasn’t always been the case under previous England head coaches.
I have to say it isn’t a move that I saw coming, given the style of play Borthwick is renowned for and the fact that Smith was released from the squad over the fallow week, but I think England fans should be excited.
Smith was in sparkling form in Harlequins’ Big Game win over Exeter last week and, provided he is given the keys to the attack and allowed to play his own game, we could be in for something more than a run of the mill England performance.
The evolution in Borthwick’s selection over a short period of time has been interesting as he has rightly moved away from the Smith/Farrell axis after just one game and now gone for Smith after a couple of games of Farrell at fly half but there has been a lot of consistency in other areas.
As many as seven of the eight forwards have started all four games in this tournament and the centre pairing are now starting a third straight game together, with Ollie Lawrence playing an increasingly prominent role and able to do a more similar job to the one that Andre Esterhuizen does alongside Smith for Quins.
There will still be plenty of kicking involved but, with Nick Evans as attack coach as well, the hope is that we see more of a game plan that suits Smith against France and that has very much been the talk coming from Borthwick in the build-up.
Ireland are setting the standards generally in world rugby at the moment but they showed the template for beating the French and it involved a ball in play time of 46 minutes 10 seconds, when the same statistic was just 37 minutes 36 seconds as England faced Italy on the same weekend.
I expect England to kick long and keep the ball in field at times to keep France’s forwards on the move for long passages of play and then England have the pace and footwork to threaten them.
Farrell’s absence from the starting XV means Ellis Genge takes on the England captaincy for the first time, something I advocated before the Autumn Nations Series, and I think he’ll do a great job.
He does have a similar hotheaded streak to Farrell but the captaincy seemed to mellow him at Leicester, he led them to the Premiership title in his first full season as skipper and has proven that he can build a rapport with referees. Captaincy can be a burden for some players but he has someone who has flourished even more with the armband on.
It’s always advantageous when the captain is a forward as well and you only have to look at all the World Cup-winning teams in the professional era to see that. John Eales, Martin Johnson, John Smit, Richie McCaw and Siya Kolisi are all forwards and were all the clear choice as captain.
Borthwick has been very clear that Farrell is still captain and will assume the responsibility when he takes the field against France but Genge has the potential to be England captain at the World Cup later in the year or beyond, you never know what will happen.
Genge is up against France’s third choice tighthead as well in Dorian Aldegheri, with Uini Atonio and Mohamed Haouas both suspended, and that can only be a benefit to England but the rhetoric is very much that the plan isn’t to bludgeon them up front.
That is what makes this game so intriguing because the team selection and narrative coming out of the England camp this week is the opposite of how Borthwick normally tends to set his teams up.
Jack Willis could give England a bit of an edge as well when it comes to marginal gains because, even though he hasn’t been at Toulouse very long, me might have picked up some inside knowledge on a few of the opposition players.
Antoine Dupont is the best player in the world and we know how dangerous he is with his running game so even if there’s just a little tell around the breakdown or something that helps keep him a bit quieter than usual, it could be key.
France haven’t won at Twickenham in the Six Nations since 2005, when Dimitri Yachvili kicked all the points, so there is a bit of a mental hurdle there for them to overcome and I think England can put them under pressure and get the better of them.
They have the players to follow the template that Ireland set to a certain extent, even if they aren’t at that level as a team, and they just have to get their kicking strategy correct because you can’t kick loosely to the likes of Damian Penaud and Ethan Dumortier.
This is the first time that Smith is starting without Farrell and with a recognised pair of centres since the end of last year’s Six Nations, it’s hugely exciting to see what that means for England’s attack and I can see them winning by five.
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Nice one.Go to comments
good to see a positive artcle negativity has a habit of compounding on itself bring on 2024Go to comments