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The promise Steve Borthwick has made to the excluded Marcus Smith

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

Steve Borthwick has given Marcus Smith assurance that he will be named in the England squad when it gathers next Sunday evening to begin match week preparations for the round four Guinness Six Nations game versus France on March 11. Smith had been a starter in 15 consecutive Test matches for England as their out-half, but he has suffered a significant tumble in recent weeks.

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After being named to start in Borthwick’s first match in charge, the 2023 championship opener against Scotland, Smith was dropped to the bench versus Italy and Wales. He played less than a minute in that later appearance, Borthwick opting to stick with skipper Owen Farrell until the 80th minute at the Principality Stadium before introducing Smith for the round three game’s final play.

The coach has since decided to exclude Smith from the squad of 26 named for this week’s two-and-a-half-day training camp in Brighton, releasing the out-half back to Harlequins who have their Big Game promotion versus Exeter at Twickenham this Saturday.

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With George Ford named in the training squad in place of Smith, the speculation since the squad announcement on Tuesday was that the 2019 World Cup final No10 was now poised to take the place of Smith in the England match day squad against the French on Saturday week.

That is a debate that Borthwick didn’t entertain at his latest media briefing. What he did say was that Smith would definitely be included by England on Sunday when they name their match week squad to prepare for the French and that the risk of the half-back getting injured playing for Harlequins was outweighed by the prospect of him getting match sharp for his country.

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“It was my decision that I then discussed with Marcus where I said the best thing for you to do is to play the game this weekend, go and play really well for your club in a big game this weekend. He has had limited game time the last two, three weeks,” explained Borthwick. “When we reassemble on Sunday, Marcus will be back in the squad and he understands the thing I want him to have is that match sharpness which is really important for him.

“A message I say regularly is they have got great strengths, they are fantastic players and Marcus is a brilliant player. I want him to bring his strengths onto the pitch – what he can do is he can open up defences and I’d love to see him open up the defence, put people through space, find space himself. He has a great tactical awareness and that multitude of kicking skills, he can create space and attack space and that is the message I have consistently given to him.”

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Asked about the potential injury risk in playing a club match sevens days before England resume their Six Nations campaign, Borthwick added: “That is always a question and it is the trade-off. The feeling I have for Marcus is that match sharpness. Get into the 10 shirt, boss a game, boss the team and reassemble with us on Sunday afternoon. Yes, there is a risk (of injury) there but the benefit of getting that match sharpness outweighs that.”

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