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The England explanation why Marcus Smith played less than a minute

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick has defended the strategy regarding his England replacements in Cardiff, an approach that restricted Marcus Smith and Henry Arundell to just a single play in the 20-10 win over Wales. The round three Guinness Six Nations match was in the 80th minute and awaiting a scrum near halfway when it was decided to lob on Smith, Arundell and sub hooker Jack Walker for a last hurrah that soon ended with a knock-on as the visitors’ attack faltered.


England had secured their double score, 10-point cushion when Ollie Lawrence dotted down in the corner on 75 minutes but rather than that third try being the cue for England to make the changes then and chase a four-try bonus point with minutes to spare, Borthwick opted to hold fire until there were only seconds remaining.

The coach had spoken at length earlier this month about the exciting prospect of having Smith in reserve after it was decided post the round one Scotland loss to drop the out-half to the bench and instead switch skipper Owen Farrell into No10 from his regular inside centre position.

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If the idea was for Smith to be introduced to expose a tiring defence, it hasn’t worked out like that. The first-choice out-half in recent years under Eddie Jones got only eight minutes at the tail-end of the round two Twickenham win over Italy and his cameo was way shorter against the Welsh at the Principality.

He had just a single ball carry after the set-piece restart, as did fellow sub Arundell, before referee Mathieu Raynal called time. Borthwick’s bench use tactics were in sharp contrast to Wales as the last of their replacements entered the fray with 12 minutes remaining at a time when the result was still in the balance with the scoreboard reading 15-10.


Asked about his reticence to unleash Smith and Arundell, a try-scorer during his cameo versus the Italians, the new England head coach said: “You go into the game with a concept of where you are going to go in terms of the interchanges and that game was a game that was a real arm wrestle in that second half.

“Some of the forwards in that arm wrestle, I thought they played their hearts out and I thought I needed to make those changes. Sometimes when it comes to those other aspects, you can upset the rhythm of a team if you make too many changes so that is why I held back… you make a decision as a coach on what you feel and what you see and I decided at that point it wasn’t right to make those changes.”


Asked about their likely frustrations over getting a cap that lasted just seconds, Borthwick added: “All the players are desperate to play. That is a testament to them. I said this a few times, we are trying to build a squad of players that is always working towards the team being at the forefront helping the team to prepare.

“Sometimes your role is to start, ometimes your role is to come off the bench, sometimes your role is to support the team as 24th and 25th man. I asked the players whatever their role is to do it with everything they can to help this team improve.”


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Coach 515 days ago

If a coach puts his replacements on too soon, people complain, too late people complain. Bottom line. SB was correct in this game to keep his rythm and close the game out. In saying this I support any team playing England, but he made the correct gut feel call.

alan 515 days ago

Over-rated as a player & over-rated, limited & one-dimensional as a coach. Borthwick out, Eddie back!

Joseph 515 days ago

Borthwick gives the impression that he's making it up as he goes along - from one minute to the next. Not fit for purpose.

Tim 515 days ago

The problem England seem to have is an oversupply of mediocre Fly halves. Not one of Ford, Farrell or Smith would be make any of the top 5 teams.

Neale 515 days ago

Borthwick 100% correct. Too many coaches make prescriptive changes regardless of the state of play. Was right to stick. However, it does smell of squeezing Smith out now Ford is fit again.

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