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The Borthwick World Cup verdict that will please Marcus Smith

By PA
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Marcus Smith is expected to be named in the England World Cup squad after Steve Borthwick indicated he will take three fly-halves to the tournament.

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While Smith starts Saturday’s opening Summer Nations Series match against Wales in Cardiff after being picked instead of Owen Farrell and George Ford, he was seen as the most likely of the three playmakers to miss out on selection for France 2023.

England took only two fly-halves to Japan four years ago but Borthwick, who names his 33-man World Cup on Monday, insisted the technical nature of certain roles means the team cannot risk being exposed by circumstance.

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“Right now I have got a pretty clear framework. In those key positions you need to have depth, three players who can play in that position,” Borthwick said. “With the number of cards that are issued and HIAs, you need to have depth for those specialist positions.

“If someone does take a head knock you are looking at 12 days out potentially and could miss two Test matches. You need to be protected and have the right amount of depth in those specialist positions, which means positional flexibility is really important in your 33.”

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Now destined to play in his first World Cup as part of England’s creative brains trust, Smith can approach Saturday’s first of four warm-up Tests unburdened by the need to convince Borthwick that he must be involved this autumn.

Farrell and Ford are more experienced and provide expert game management, but the 24-year-old Harlequins ringmaster offers the type of running threat that can turn a match on its head.

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“I rate Marcus exceptionally highly. He has an incredible skill set and an ability to find space. He recognises when there are defenders that he can pick off,” Borthwick said. “He can either pull them out of the line and put other people through space or find space himself.

“I have been hugely impressed with Marcus throughout this camp but also in all my interactions with him. He is a young man who has already achieved a lot in the game, but he has got even more exciting things to achieve in the future.”

Smith’s last start at fly-half came during a heavy defeat by France in the Six Nations, a tournament that saw him swap in and out of the role with Farrell. He was among a number of players to struggle that day – and he has not forgotten.

“France was a long time ago now and I have played a lot of rugby since then,” Smith said. “It was a tough afternoon and I have learnt a lot of lessons. It has definitely put me in a much better position as a person and on the field as well as a player.

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“I would not say I want to rectify it, but I am a very competitive person…”

Danny Care joins Smith at half-back for the visit to the Welsh capital and with just one player from Premiership finalists Saracens and Sale present in the starting XV [Max Malins, who has since joined Bristol], the side is littered with fringe World Cup contenders.

Ellis Genge captains the team but apart from Care it is an inexperienced line-up that sees fast-rising Northampton flanker Tom Pearson make his debut at openside, with Theo Dan and Tom Willis poised to win their first caps off the bench.

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Borthwick and his coaching assistants will hold their final selection meeting on Saturday night before each player is told the following day whether they have made the cut.

“Out of the 33, the vast majority of those positions we are pretty firm on where we are. There is always a few that are written in pencil, as it were,” Borthwick said.

“The players are very clear about where they stand, where they are in the rankings of their position and what they need to do to earn their place in the 33.”

Borthwick’s squad were given a talk by England football coach Gareth Southgate during their World Cup training camp. “Gareth has got such a vast experience of tournaments as a player and in management. He shared that with the players,” Borthwick said.

“They enjoyed it, asked him plenty of questions and he was very generous in terms of his lessons and his experiences and things he has picked up on in the journey.”

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6 Comments
B
BigMaul 351 days ago

“with no players from Premiership finalists Saracens and Sale present in the starting XV”

Why are all news outlets reporting this? Oh yes, because you all copy and paste each other’s articles and don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Malins played in the prem final for Saracens and is in the starting XV. Sloppy inaccurate journalism.

D
Diarmid 351 days ago

Can't George Ford cover scrum-half? If I were Borthwick I'd drop JVP & Youngs who can be put on a Eurostar at a couple of hours' notice and both know the England way inside out, and take just Care as a scrum half with Ford as cover, freeing up a space in the squad for someone useful who might contribute to actually winning a game like Earl or Murley. Better still take Mercer and Underhill instead of those two pedestrian scrum halves.

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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