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Harlequins name Marcus Smith to start after his England release

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Marcus Smith has been named to start by Harlequins on Saturday after he was dropped from this week’s England training squad by Steve Borthwick. The out-half had lost his Test place at No10 in recent weeks, benching for Owen Farrell rather than starting with him in a 10/12 combination.

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Borthwick abandoned that partnership inherited from Eddie Jones after the opening round loss to Scotland and Smith’s game time since then as a replacement has been minimal. For instance, he was only introduced as an 80th-minute replacement in last Saturday’s win over Wales, coming on for the round three game’s final play.

That restricted exposure resulted in Borthwick taking the decision to send Smith back to Harlequins to play in their Big Game promotion versus Exeter and call up George Ford instead for the two-and-a-half-day England camp in Brighton.

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While Borthwick stressed that Smith would be named on Sunday in the England squad that will prepare for the upcoming March 11 Six Nations game at home to France, the player’s exclusion from the Brighton training camp ignited speculation that he is poised to lose his place to Ford in the Test match 23.

That selection remains to be seen and, in the meantime, Smith has been given an opportunity by Harlequins to strut his stuff at Twickenham as their No10 when they take on the Chiefs. He is included in an XV that contains Joe Marchant and Cadan Murley, the pair who were also released by England to get some Premiership exposure.

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A Harlequins statement also noted a milestone appearance for veteran Danny Care. “Quins’ trio of returning England players all step into the starting XV this week, with Marcus Smith, Joe Marchant and Cadan Murley, with 374 club appearances between them, bolstering the backline.

“With regards to record-setting, having recently broken the Harlequins appearance record, Danny Care will go into second place in the all-time Premiership Rugby appearance record when he runs out onto the pitch on Saturday, surpassing current England head coach Steve Borthwick on 265 league appearances. Care will be second only to current Leicester Tigers interim head coach Richard Wigglesworth on 322 Premiership appearances.

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Harlequins boss Tabai Matson said: “Big Game is such an amazing event. Last year being involved in my first Big Game made me realise that it really is spectacular. I know it has moved date but we are hoping for nearly 60,000 people at Twickenham, so it’s a really special event. The players are buzzing and that has changed the energy of the week.

“In Exeter, you couldn’t have picked a better team to play in front of so many people. It was only a couple of years ago we played them in a final, so for a number of reasons it’s a really good week for us and there is some really good energy amongst the group leading into it.”

Harlequins (vs Exeter, Saturday – 5.15)
1. Joe Marler (260)
2. George Head (15)
3. Wilco Louw (61)
4. Dino Lamb (76)
5. Stephan Lewies (56) – Captain
6. Jack Kenningham (35)
7. James Chisholm (128)
8. Tom Lawday (72)
9. Danny Care (352)
10. Marcus Smith (134)
11. Josh Bassett (11)
12. Andre Esterhuizen (63)
13. Joe Marchant (147)
14. Cadan Murley (93)
15. Nick David (26)

Replacements:
16. Sam Riley (23)
17. Fin Baxter (19)
18. Simon Kerrod (92)
19. Irne Herbst (17)
20. Will Evans (58)
21. Luke Wallace (193)
22. Scott Steele (28)
23. Luke Northmore (53)

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