Daily Mail

Borthwick drops Farrell to the bench

Dropping his captain is a seismic call from new England coach


ENGLAND captain Owen Farrell will be dropped for the first time in eight years today as Marcus Smith takes over at fly-half against France.

In a shock twist, head coach Steve Borthwick is primed to select Smith for the Twickenham showdown on Saturday, with Farrell benched. Prop Ellis Genge is set to take over as skipper, with fellow vice-captain Courtney Lawes having been ruled out with a shoulder injury.

Smith is likely to be the only change to the starting XV who beat Wales two weeks ago in Cardiff, where the Harlequins star was limited to just 14 seconds off the bench.

The 24-year-old prodigy was released to his club last week but forced his way back into the reckoning with a man-of-the-match display in a 40-5 thrashing of Exeter. Experience­d fly-half George Ford was also in contention for selection but has been released to play for Sale at London Irish on Sunday.

MARCUS SMITH’S impending recall at No 10 for England is significan­t, but the fact that he is set to replace Owen Farrell — who is destined for a bench role against France — is truly momentous.

Frankly, this decision, which is expected to be confirmed this afternoon, is a seismic shock and a profound statement of ruthless intent by Steve Borthwick. The England head coach is making it clear that no one is untouchabl­e. Not even the national captain and Test centurion whose authority and influence he eulogised about after naming his first squad in January.

It is impossible to exaggerate what a big call it is by Borthwick, so early in his tenure, given the status and pedigree of Farrell, 31. For most of his career, if he has been fit and available, he has started for England. The last time that did not happen for a major match was when the national team faced Fiji in the 2015 World Cup opener at Twickenham.

Since then, he has only been on the bench for his country three times: against Japan in 2018, in a World Cup warm-up encounter with Wales in the summer of 2019 and in the pool- stage fixture against the USA in Kobe a few weeks later. But those were rotation occasions and this is not. This is ‘Le Crunch’, against Six Nations champions France, when England need to be as near to full- strength as possible for a daunting assignment.

Leaving out Farrell will force the Saracens playmakery­maker to realise that his position osition is as precarious­s as anyone else’s, after ter three rounds of the he Championsh­ip when he has landed just seven out of 15 shots at goal, and only ignited England’s attack in fleeting bursts.

Reputation­s are e providing no selection crst, security. First, Borthwick optedd to omit Manu Tuilagigi from his midfield, afterer the Sale centre had been regarded as a crutch for so many past England coaches who relied on his gainlinebu­sting power. Then the head coach ejected the country’s mostcapped player, Ben Youngs. But this decision is on a whole different level. It is a brave move by Borthwick.wick. His prpredeces­sor, Eddie Jones, rremained loyal to FarrellFar­re and valued his reassuring­reas presence as an ultra- competitiv­ep talisman ofo the team, even before he was captain. So often when George Ford or Danny CiprianiC or Smith worew 10 Farrell worew 12. But now he is set to wear 22 and fulfil an unfamiliar­iar susupporti­ng role. It will jar for someone who has so little experience of being demoted. What Borthwick’s decision means is that Smith has been given the conductor’s baton. He will run the show, without subconscio­usly deferring to an imposing presence alongside him. When Jones strove to forge a partnershi­p between the Harlequins prodigy and Farrell, it meant that the skipper was always seen as the real driving force, but now Smith will be left to dictate the game.

Supporters heading to Twickenham on Saturday will be enthused by the prospect of witnessing Smith’s trademark attacking brilliance. That is the theory, anyway. But it remains to be seen whether his elevation will lead to a tactical liberation.

When Borthwick revived Leicester, he did not deviate from a structured, high-intensity, high-pressure, kicking and territoria­l game-plan. So just because Smith is going to wear 10, it does not necessaril­y follow that England are going to transform into all- court entertaine­rs.

The creative genius might be tempered by team orders, so fans hoping for high-octane thrills and spills should not assume that is what they will see.

With Farrell among the reserves and Courtney Lawes injured again, the captaincy will pass to Ellis Genge, who led the Tigers to Premiershi­p glory under Borthwick. The prop has become a mainstay of the pack. He is someone capable of setting a thunderous tone. Whether it is for this week only or for longer, he will bring passion and commitment and aggressive intent to the job.

He has a no-nonsense attitude. Looking ahead to clashes with the top two teams in the world over the next two weekends — France then Ireland — Genge said: ‘It’s a great opportunit­y to see where we’re at.’

When pressed on where England ‘are at’, he added: ‘ Sixth. That’s where the rankings say we are, anyway. We’re trying to build some foundation­s for what’s to come.

‘It’s all about stepping forward.

It’s where you are at when you have not necessaril­y hit rock bottom, but when you are not performing as well as you can. You want answers, you want to know why, you are trying so hard and suddenly you start to see a slight change of behaviours and performanc­e and outcome. That’s what we are getting after.’

Asked if he senses parallels between the salvage operation with England and the mission Borthwick successful­ly oversaw at Leicester, Genge added, tellingly: ‘There are similariti­es in terms of the kick strategy. I don’t think it will necessaril­y replicate exactly how it panned out at Leicester during that 18-month period, but you will hopefully see the same sort of curve.’

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