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'You have to start him again next week': Marcus Smith not to blame for England woes

By Ben Smith
Marcus Smith of England look on during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium on March 11, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Marcus Smith was handed a start by new head coach Steve Borthwick in place of Owen Farrell but Irish pundits have avoided laying blame on the Harlequins flyhalf.


Smith returned to the Premiership during the Six Nations bye week to get some minutes under his belt after featuring in short spurts off the bench for England since his first up start against Scotland.

After Smith starred in a brilliant performance against Exeter, Borthwick boldly elevated him back into the starting line-up to play France at Farrell’s expense, who led the side to two victories over Italy and Wales.

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After the 53-10 defeat to France, former Scotland head coach Matt Williams was reluctant to put blame on Smith’s shoulders with so many other areas of concern for England.

“You certainly can’t look at Marcus and say he was poor,” Williams said on Virgin Media Sport‘s post-game panel.

“I thought the No 9 who started, Jack van Poortvliet was as slow as a month of Sundays.

“He was taking an age to get the ball from the ruck to Smith, and that takes away his space.


“To even think about 9 and 10 is wrong. The 9 was slow, I will say that, he is not international standard in my opinion.

“They’ve got a real problem at 9 but there was so many other problems around the field.”

Apart from the slow service from the scrumhalf, Williams said England’s loose forwards were ‘wiped off the park’ by the French trio of Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon and Francois Cros.

The brutal French pack caused problems for England at the scrum and at the ruck where the home side were penalised for a number of infringements.


“The back row, as Andrew said, were just wiped off the park. The scrum was struggling, the breakdown was struggling. They were struggling in the backfield with the kicking game.

“Their defensive system was poor. They were missing tackles, they were getting around them left, right and centre, through them.

“And what about the 10? Let’s not blame the young man. There are multiple problems before we get to Smith.

“I thought he was competent but he is not even a story in that game.”

Ireland’s fullback Rob Kearney was impressed with the cameo from Farrell which gave England a short burst but ultimately backed Smith to retain the job for the next clash with Ireland.

He did not think it was a good idea to take the 10 jersey off Smith after just one opportunity to start.

“I was only just thinking does Farrell come back in next week,” Kearney said.

“For me when Farrell and Mitchell came on for that first immediate 10 minutes, there was a difference in England’s play.

“The pace was up, the energy was up, and then it tapered off a little bit.

“I said before the game that Farrell would always be in my starting XV, but as a head coach you’ve given a young kid his start.

“Is it the right thing now to take it back off him? If you want to really try and develop him and give him every opportunity to grow.

“I think you have to start him again next week.”


Williams believed that Smith could flourish at international level if he was in the right system.

So far Smith has tried to fit alongside Farrell at 12 for most of his short international career with the start against France a rare opportunity to pull the strings by himself.

“The problem is the structure around him. If you put Smith in Ireland’s structure, he’d go brilliantly,” he said.

“The structure around the 10 has options, and we’ll see that tomorrow hopefully as we have all year with Johnny [Sexton].

“But he [Smith] hasn’t got those options, he hasn’t got that structure around him.

“When Mitchell came on, there was certainly a lot more spark, he was getting the ball faster and Farrell was calling more shots, there is no two ways about that.

“It looked better for a couple of minutes, but then it fell apart. That tells you there is whole lot of other problems.

“I think if you threw Marcus Smith out now that would be the worst possible thing you could do to the young man.”




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