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What England made of having three 10s on the pitch at the same time

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

England boss Steve Borthwick has declared that the presence of three No10s in his backline at the same time brought another dimension to his team on Saturday in Lille.

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The English played the final 30 minutes of their 71-0 thrashing of minnows Chile with Marcus Smith at full-back and Owen Farrell switched out one channel to inside centre following the introduction of George Ford off the bench.

Seven tries had already been scored when the three-10s tactic was deployed and although only four more tries followed in a closing half-hour affected by a run of penalties, it still included the sight of Ford looping onto a pass and smartly delaying his transfer to enable the try-scoring Smith to be in the perfect position to take the chance.

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That move provided a glimpse as to what England – who had five tries alone from winger Henry Arundell – can do when they opt to put the ball through the hands rather than deluge the opposition with a kick-dominated display, as was the case in their previous World Cup pools wins over Argentina and Japan.

It left Borthwick signing off on September with a three-from-three record in a campaign that will resume on October 7 back in Lille versus Samoa and judging by his post-game remarks, the impact made by the two-try in his first outing with the No15 shirt on his back didn’t go unnoticed by the head coach.

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“He did a lot of very good things and there was a lot of exciting talent in the pitch,” said Borthwick. “As I have been saying for quite a long period now, this squad is packed full of talent and is packed full of different options and you saw that today.

“The starting configuration did a really good job of working through a challenging spell (of 0-0 until the 20th minute) and to be able to change that in the game to then have Owen, George and Marcus on the pitch brought another dimension. It certainly gives options for the future.

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“Playing 15 there is a different amount of space there than playing at 10 and the job of the players on the inside is to hold the defence to make sure there is space for the guys on the outside, and I thought he did that very well.

“The way Marcus took those opportunities, found the space and helped link with Henry, in particular, was a positive and what it shows is a lot of hard work of everybody on the training field.

“Players have been working for a long period for the opportunity to go and represent England in this World Cup and they are building well. We’ll progress. There is plenty of work to do but the team is going to get sharper and keep building from a fitness perspective.”

Saturday was skipper Farrell’s first outing since his August 12 red card against Wales resulted in a four-game ban. He was given the start at No10, with Borthwick deciding to hold Ford in reserve on this occasion after man of the match awards against the Pumas and the Japanese.

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However, while he was pleased with how it unfolded, he was wary about overegging the merit of having three 10s in the England backline at the same time. “It’s already been made out into something it’s probably not,” he deflected.

“It’s a whole team effort. For a team to score tries out wide, everybody has got a job to do and I’m talking about all 15. You’re picking out three players in the 15, it doesn’t work like that.

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“I thought Marcus did a good job of talking where the space was, I thought George when he came on moved the ball well when it was on.

“But you have to give a lot of credit to the lads who were in the middle and the forwards who did a lot of work when it came to set-piece time and mauling and scrummaging and making sure that we were dominant in those areas but then holding people on the inside and being a real threat through the middle which allowed people like Henry to score on the outside.

“I enjoyed being out there and I thought Marcus played really well, looked dangerously constantly as he normally does. All I can say is I enjoyed it, I thought Marcus played really well and George added when he came on as well.”

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