Alamy Stock Photo Marcus Smith (file pic).
# Tough Call
Honeymoon blow prepares England boss Borthwick for dropping Smith
Owen Farrell will now move from inside centre to fly-half, where he plays for club side Saracens, with Ollie Lawrence in the No 12 shirt.

STEVE BORTHWICK said the memory of being dropped by England while on honeymoon had steeled him for demoting Marcus Smith to the bench for Sunday’s Six Nations international against Italy at Twickenham.

Smith is now among the replacements after a mixed showing by the talented fly-half in a tournament-opening 29-23 loss at home to Scotland last weekend — Borthwick’s first match since succeeding Eddie Jones as England coach.

England captain Owen Farrell will now move from inside centre to fly-half, where he plays for club side Saracens, with Ollie Lawrence in the No 12 shirt and a fit-again Henry Slade recalled at outside centre.

“Selection is never easy,” said Borthwick, 43, after naming his team on Friday.

The former lock, who won 57 England caps, including 21 as skipper, from 2001-10 added: “You’re talking to the man who got dropped from the England captaincy when he was on honeymoon.

“I’m walking down the beach in Bali with my wife and I get a phone call (from then team manager Martin Johnson) saying ‘hey Steve you’re no longer England captain! Actually, you’re no longer in the England squad’.

“It hurts, but what you have got to do is keep working to be better,” insisted Borthwick. “That’s exactly what I did, and that’s what I have seen in the players this week.”

Deploying Farrell, a veteran of 101 England internationals, at fly-half should stiffen a defence whose missed tackles contributed to several Scotland tries last weekend.

“Owen’s ability to manage a game and dictate the game and where and how it should be played is very, very good,” said Borthwick. “He’s a very good defender in that channel and in the last couple of years at Saracens, his ball movement has really developed.

- ‘Listen to people close to me’ -

Whether Smith and Farrell, together for the last eight Tests, should be England’s 10-12 partnership at a World Cup in France now just seven months away has long been a talking point, with numerous pundits making their views known.

But Borthwick said he’d preferred his own judgement and that of defence chief and rugby league great Kevin Sinfield, as well as the opinion of former All Blacks fly-half turned Harlequins coach Nick Evans, drafted in by England to assist with their attack this Six Nations.

“I listen to people that are really close to me,” explained Borthwick. “In terms of Kevin Sinfield and Nick Evans I’ve got two people who know a fair bit about how to play in playmaking positions and understand the game.”

Italy coach Kieran Crowley, looking to guide the Azzurri to their first win over England after 29 defeats, was not overly concerned by his opponents’ playmaking debate.

“It doesn’t matter to us that Farrell is playing 10 and Smith is on the bench,” said the 61-year-old.

“Farrell will play a more percentage game, I would think and they’ll use Smith later in the game to open it up. But we just concentrate on ourselves.”

Italy came close to a stunning win over France in Rome last weekend before going down 29-24 to the reigning Six Nations Grand Slam champions.

That followed a 2022 where the Azzurri ended a 36-match losing streak in the Six Nations with a last-gasp win over Wales and then recorded their first victory over Australia.

“Quite often in the past the Italians have accepted the fact that they get beat by these top teams, but the good thing (against France) on Sunday was that wasn’t there,” said Crowley, a former New Zealand full-back.

“There was a different feeling about it and that’s a real growth thing for me.”

– © AFP 2023

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