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Toby Flood wants George Ford to start, queries Ben Earl's weight

By Liam Heagney
England's George Ford (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Former England out-half Toby Flood has given his verdict on the George Ford-Marcus Smith selection dilemma Steve Borthwick is facing ahead of this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Ireland, adding that he isn’t a fan of selecting Ben Earl at No8.

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Having missed the three February games against Italy, Wales and Scotland due to injury, Smith has this week pitched up fit and is available for selection to face the Irish. His return to rude health is timely given the difficulties Ford encountered as the England No10 in the 21-30 round three loss away to the Scots.

However, Flood reckoned Borthwick should stick with Ford to start against Ireland rather than omit the player who was England’s first-choice out-half last month.

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Speaking to Lucky Block, Flood said: “George didn’t have a great game in Scotland, but it is difficult for a fly-half when your team is turning over the ball that many times.

“You can’t control the rhythm and the tempo of the game because it is so stop-start and you are gifting the opposition possession. Marcus is someone who could come back, but George has done enough in the World Cup and since to keep his place.

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“Marcus is likely to be ring-rusty, a bit like Ollie Lawrence, and when it comes to Ireland could you throw him at the deep end? I’m not so sure. But to have Marcus back around the squad is something that will excite because he does bring something unique in terms of what England can offer.”

Switching to No8, the position that Earl has made his own after Borthwick axed Alex Dombrandt, England’s 2023 Six Nations starter, for the World Cup and then overlooked Billy Vunipola after he failed to fire. “When Earl carries, he does well and beats the first defender,” explained Flood.

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“But he doesn’t have that attritional bulk you are looking for in a traditional No8. He has speed, power and dynamism but doesn’t have the weight to go with it. But who do you bring in? Dombrandt has played but not well enough to keep hold of that shirt. You can’t keep going back to Billy Vunipola.

“Steve’s problem is there is no stand-out player. (Zach) Mercer has looked good for Gloucester but what Earl did at the World Cup gives him credit. England do not have a highly attritional No8. They have lots of similar types of players. There is no clear answer.

“It is unlikely Borthwick, with his conservative nature, will change anything much but it’s right that people are questioning England’s (back row) balance because with all their capabilities and resources with the number of players they have, they should be better but they are dysfunctional.”

One newcomer who has immensely impressed Flood is Immanuel Feyi-Waboso. He now wants the try-scoring replacement against the Scots to be chosen for a first Test start.

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“Immanuel Feyi-Waboso looked exceptional when he came on and he might well come in ahead of Elliot Daly. What is the worst thing that can happen?

“England need to roll the dice in the setup. Why not start with Tommy Freeman and Feyi-Waboso on the wings? I know that would take out a huge amount of experience, but Feyi-Waboso is someone who you really want to expose at the highest level.

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“You have a bit of a rough diamond there who could change the game. You need that against Ireland because if you go toe to toe with them and try to out-muscle them and outplay them you are going to lose. But if you try and break the game open there is a chance you can expose them.

“When England were chasing the game against Scotland and they needed to play, they still went back to box kicking from inside the Scottish half. There was that resistance to play.

“I do worry that will be part of Steve’s decision-making against Ireland. At some stage, you have to throw caution to the wind and go and find out who else is out there and what they could do.

“There is a chance to change it up a little bit and see what happens. Ultimately, England cannot win the Six Nations now. Why not go out and see if they can play and put them in a situation in which they will test their mettle?”

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10 Comments
C
Colin 101 days ago

Billy V has been ineffective as an 8 for a number of years and should have been replaced 5 years ago, at least. I cringe everytime a journalist, coach or ex players says that experience is needed in the team. Most England players for the last 6 years are experienced at LOSING after playing badly. I like Gatland’s aproach of giving the young a chance. Ford is NOT the future.

j
john 101 days ago

Borthwick needs a settled team that can get use to playing together as a team if it is going to be Marcus Smith he then needs to stick with him players should only be not chosen when they are in his team if they are injured.

J
Jeff 101 days ago

Barbeary is the 8 that England so badly need, a shame Borthwick is too small minded to recognise that.

A
Anthony 101 days ago

Ok . I do not like Ford.
To me he is overated by miles.
Ok he kicked England to victory against Argentina but come on . Nobody would say he has shone whatsoever the first three games. When the press keep saying how well he controls games. ON WHAT THE HELL DO THEY BASE THAT ASSUMPTION . Play him against IRELAND and see him melt away when the pressure comes on and be done with it. He will be finished. He is lost without his mate Owen taking the pressure.
Then England can see how good they are with a proper 10 mixing it up.

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