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Smith wins Ford battle but England update is bad news for Lawes

By Liam Heagney
Marcus Smith (left) and George Ford with England (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Marcus Smith has won his England battle with George Ford, the Harlequins out-half getting retained by Steve Borthwick in the squad that was cut to 27 on Tuesday afternoon ahead of this weekend’s round four Guinness Six Nations game versus France. However, there was no place for Courtney Lawes as he is again sidelined with injury.


Last week’s exclusion of Smith from the fallow week training squad in Brighton ignited speculation that Sale No10 Ford – who was included – was set to get the jump on his rival in this week’s round four match week squad to face Les Bleus.

That speculation was misplaced, though, as Borthwick has opted to keep Smith involved and instead release Ford to the Sharks for their Gallagher Premiership fixture next Sunday at London Irish.

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Mike Brown and Ollie Lawrence | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 66
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Having played less than a minute off the bench in the round three win over Wales, Smith was last week released to Harlequins to get game time in their Big Game fixture win over Exeter at Twickenham and he is now on course to play again at that same stadium after England named him in their reduced midweek squad.

Borthwick had named a 36-strong panel on Sunday evening to assemble at Pennyhill Park for two days of training and that number has now been reduced by nine. A statement read: “Steve Borthwick has retained a 27-player squad for England’s Guinness Six Nations match against France on Saturday (4:45pm KO). Courtney Lawes has been withdrawn from the squad with a shoulder injury.”


Of the 20 forwards named on Sunday evening, Tom Dunn, Joe Heyes, Lawes, Bevan Rodd and Sam Simmonds have now been excluded. The shoulder injury affecting Lawes, a used replacement versus Wales in what was his first cap in 2022/23, is the latest setback in an injury-hit season that has already featured concussion, neck, glute and calf problems.


Regarding the 16 backs chosen at the start of the week, Tommy Freeman, Ford, Cadan Murley and Ben Youngs have now departed back to their clubs, leaving 12 in camp. Manu Tuilagi has been retained but he can’t be selected to face the French as the game counts as the final match of his current suspension.

England squad (vs France)
Forwards (15):
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 8 caps)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, 98 caps)
Ben Curry (Sale Sharks, 3 caps)
Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins, 12 caps)
Ben Earl (Saracens, 15 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 46 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 75 caps)
Nick Isiekwe (Saracens, 10 caps)
Maro Itoje (Saracens, 65 caps)
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 17 caps)
David Ribbans (Northampton Saints, 3 caps)
Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, 59 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 77 caps)
Jack Walker (Harlequins, 2 caps)
Jack Willis (Toulouse, 8 caps)

Backs (12):
Henry Arundell (London Irish, 5 caps)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 104 caps)
Ollie Lawrence (Bath Rugby, 10 caps)
Max Malins (Saracens, 17 caps)
Joe Marchant (Harlequins, 14 caps)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 3 caps)
Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 54 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 20 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 20 caps)
Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 50 caps)
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 10 caps)
Anthony Watson (Leicester Tigers, 53 caps)


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