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England explain why Marcus Smith has only made Saturday's bench

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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England boss Eddie Jones has outlined why Marcus Smith has only been chosen on the bench for Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series opener versus Tonga. The Australian has spoken enthusiastically last Sunday on BT Sport about his ambition to have the 22-year-old named as the starting No10 with skipper Owen Farrell occupying the inside centre channel. 

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However, that plan to unveil a new ten-twelve combination this weekend at Twickenham was scuppered by Smith’s slow start to the training week and the compromise has resulted in Farrell getting chosen as the starting out-half with the Test level newcomer held in reserve on the bench. 

It will be Farrell’s first start in the No10 jersey for England since the February 2021 Six Nations defeat at home to Scotland. That resulted in George Ford being restored as the No10, with Farrell moving out to the midfield. 

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England went on to finish in a derisory fifth place in the Six Nations with Ford-Farrell as their ten-twelve and with Smith having since emerged on the scene, earning his first two caps in July before linking up the Lions, Jones had placed his faith in the youngster continuing to emerge as he omitted Ford from recent national camps. 

However, the sight of Smith and Farrell stationed at ten-twelve now won’t happen from the start against the Tongans. “As I alluded to earlier in the week, Marcus hasn’t been able to train so he just did some light training today [Thursday] and we anticipate he is going to be able to train fully tomorrow, so therefore we decided to start with Owen and Marcus will finish for us,” explained Jones. 

Aside from injury doubts, the England preparation was also affected on Thursday by a staff member testing positive for Covid. It resulted in additional testing taking place, which caused a delay in the team being announced for Saturday. “Apologies for the delay,” said Jones when his scheduled media briefing began 45 minutes behind schedule.

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“Unfortunately this morning we had one of our backroom staff test positive on the lateral flow so we then had to test all the players, test the rest of the staff and do PCR tests, but training was then able to proceed as normal and at this stage, we are cautiously optimistic everything will proceed as normal. They [the PCR tests] are in Nottingham at the moment,” continued Jones, adding they will learn the results “as quickly as Robin Hood can get them back”. 

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