Daily Mail

This game will be a humdinger... and Smith’s selection could be pivotal


England’s clash with France was always set up to be a potential classic but it now promises to be a humdinger of a Test following the bold, exciting selection of Marcus smith.

The decision by head coach steve Borthwick to select the brilliant smith at no 10 for today’s Twickenham clash could, in time, prove to be a pivotal moment in the team’s developmen­t.

It is a huge call from Borthwick to leave his captain Owen Farrell on the bench and replace him at fly-half with smith. Yet once again, I have to applaud Borthwick for his selection decision. In his short stint in charge of the team, he has already shown that he has no favourites and is not afraid to make tough calls.

He is demonstrat­ing he has all the skills to be an internatio­nal coach of the highest quality.

Borthwick has got the rest of us guessing right now. When he sent smith back to Harlequins last weekend, I don’t think many of us could have seen Borthwick going with anyone but Farrell at fly-half against France.

Fabien galthie and the French would, I’m sure, have been expecting that to happen. now, with smith starting, the match has a whole new dimension.

Every England fan turning up at Twickenham today will be hugely excited about the match because smith is playing. He is the sort of player supporters want to watch.

From England’s perspectiv­e, it’s important smith plays a part in a winning cause. But on a wider point, it’s important players like him excite the crowd. That’s how rugby grows as a sport.

The game has had so much negative publicity this season — most of it fully deserved and self-inflicted — so it’s important this six nations reminds everyone of how good rugby can be. smith and England can do that today.

as I wrote earlier this week, the England no 10 debate has the potential to be a huge distractio­n for the team in the long term. It has been a big, big talking point in the last week.

Farrell, who is not in the best of form, is on the bench for France and I think that’s a fair call by Borthwick who clearly has a particular game plan in mind for this weekend.

By picking smith, Borthwick has admitted he wants England to play very differentl­y against France from how they have done in the six nations so far. Both Ireland and scotland had joy against Les Bleus by playing a high-tempo game. France looked a touch tired against scotland at times.

England will have to be smart tactically but I hope they give smith — who I think can be a true world superstar — the licence to play his game.

There is absolutely no point in picking smith and then asking him to boot the ball up in the air for England runners to chase. For smith to thrive and unleash England’s talented backline, the key is quick ball.

The reason smith had such a brilliant game for Harlequins against Exeter last weekend was because his back row was dominant and allowed him to get on the front foot in attack.

England’s back row of lewis ludlam, Jack Willis and alex dombrandt went well in the win over Wales but they will have to step up again. France are much better opposition.

I’m sure Farrell, who I am still a great fan of, will be very disappoint­ed to be dropped to the bench.

at his very best, Farrell still starts for England in my view. But now he knows he has a real challenger for the 10 shirt.

I am pleased he is on the bench and not playing 12, which was sending him and England backwards. He must now fully focus on being one of, if not the best 10s in world rugby. Playing Farrell at 12 has not helped him or England.

With Farrell among the replacemen­ts, Ellis genge takes over the captaincy. I’m very pleased for genge, whose elevation to England skipper caps his remarkable story. again, I think that is a very canny decision by Borthwick.

England can absolutely beat France, even if they are far behind them in terms of developmen­t on paper. Home advantage can certainly help and I expect Twickenham to be rocking.

Borthwick has created a stability to the side the fans can get behind and I’m sure the selection of smith will bring a feelgood factor to the game for everyone with a love of English rugby.

That can only be a good thing for the team. France will still be a stiff, stiff test. They will kick a lot and try to force smith and England into mistakes.

But for all their talent, they are a beatable team. They do not like Twickenham and if England play with pace and give smith a platform to deliver the goods, we could be set for a classic.

When I talk about the England and France game entertaini­ng the fans for the good of rugby, the other two matches this weekend also have plenty of promise.

Before the action gets going at Twickenham, there is a wooden spoon decider in Rome between Italy and Wales and there is every chance of a home win.

neither team have a victory to their name in the Championsh­ip so far.

Wales are struggling right now on and off the field and a second successive loss to Italy would be another monumental blow.

Tomorrow, scotland host Ireland. That will be another huge game in what has been a tremendous six nations so far. Ireland will rightly be confident going to Edinburgh given their status as world no 1. a grand slam is two games away but scotland are a side on the up. They have so many attacking threats.

Ireland still have plenty of work to do to complete a clean sweep but if they can win at Murrayfiel­d they will have the comfort of going for a slam in dublin against England on the final weekend.

a fascinatin­g weekend of rugby awaits. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Every fan at Twickenham today will be hugely excited because he is playing

 ?? PA ?? Perfect 10s: captain Farrell (circled right) talks to the players at training yesterday, but will give way to Smith (left) on the pitch
PA Perfect 10s: captain Farrell (circled right) talks to the players at training yesterday, but will give way to Smith (left) on the pitch
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