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What Finn Russell would do with Smith/Farrell for England vs Italy

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Scotland out-half Finn Russell has waded into the debate over England continuing to select Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell as a 10/12 combination under Steve Borthwick rather than have one player as the starting out-half and the other as the bench back-up and not as the starting inside centre.


Eddie Jones last year attempted to mould Smith and Farrell as a partnership in the starting England team, naming them alongside each other in all three games on the July tour to Australia and then in all four matches of the Autumn Nations Series.

The creative edge didn’t progress as much as England fans would have liked in those seven matches, igniting a huge debate over the winter as to what new head coach Borthwick would do when the Guinness Six Nations began. In the end, Borthwick opted to continue with the Jones tactic, pairing Smith and Farrell together at 10 and 12 for the opening match versus Scotland.

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With Harlequins attack coach Nick Evans now assisting Borthwick for the duration of the championship, the Smith/Farrell combination was more effective than it had been previously but with England ultimately beaten 29-23 by the Scots, there has been renewed debate about the merits of the two established club No10s starting together for England as a 10/12 partnership.

Russell was the Scottish No10 who came up against the Smith/Farrell axis last weekend at Twickenham and he has now shared his thoughts on what has become a hot topic heading in this weekend’s England game at home to Italy. Should Borthwick persist with Smith and Farrell as his 10/12 when he names his team on Friday afternoon or should one of the players be kept on the bench, enabling England to change up their midfield against the Italians?


Appearing on the latest RugbyPass Offload, Russell said: “It depends how they want to play. Marcus has got so much X-factor, Farrell has got a lot more experience and is a different player to Marcus. So I don’t know. When Marcus plays at Harlequins he has (Andre) Esterhuizen outside which is really good for the gain line so he can play quite often off the front ball, off front foot ball, but I’d say Owen can probably control a game a bit better and Marcus has got more of an X-factor around him.


“So it depends on who they are playing and how they want to play and what they might want to go with. We thought they were maybe going to go Marcus and Own with (Manu) Tuilagi, so Tuilagi can get them the go-forward and they are going to have two ball players to play with and two kicking options because they kick it a lot but when they had (Joe) Marchant there, like they have got strike runners but not as much as if they have Manu out there.

“That allowed us to stop them a bit more from first phase. Not stop their attack, they probably just didn’t get the ball they wanted. I don’t know the players that well to play alongside them, so it is hard to say what I would go with and again it’s dependent… who have they got this week? Italy.

“It might be better to go with Marcus this week with a bit of X-factor but then how Italy played (against France), it might be better to go with Farrell to maybe control the game a bit better and then Marcus coming on later on when it is a bit more open and the Italians are maybe a bit more tired.

“Like I said, I don’t know the English players that well personally so it is hard to say what the best option is. But it was hard for them first game because they had a few injuries, a couple of centres went down so it was probably tough for them to decide.”


Russell added that Scotland initially believed England would start Farrell at out-half against them before an injury ruled out Henry Slade from selection and it was then decided to omit Tuilagi and start Marchant at No13 outside Smith and Farrell.

“We heard through it was going to be Owen at 10 but then they got a couple of injuries and we then started hearing that Manu wasn’t going to be playing and it was going to be Marcus and Owen, so we weren’t really sure what team to expect.

“It was hard to prep not knowing what their team was going to be, how they were going to play and who they were going to pick. It was an interesting week’s build-up.”

  • Click here to listen to the full Finn Russell interview on RugbyPass Offload


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