Smith dropped again as Farrell is back at No 10
OWEN FARRELL is set to reclaim the England No 10 shirt from Marcus Smith in Dublin, as head coach Steve Borthwick goes back to the future by picking the same midfield trio who upset Ireland four years ago.
In 2019, England went to Dublin and beat Ireland 32-20 in one of the finest victories of Eddie Jones’s tenure. Now his successor will redeploy the same 10-12-13 axis who starred in that victory — captain Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade. Barring any late disruption, sources have indicated to Sportsmail that Farrell will return at fly-half, with Smith expected to feature among the replacements.
George Ford looks likely to miss out on a place in the 23 altogether.
I’M DISAPPOINTED. I had been hoping that England would stick with Marcus Smith at 10 against Ireland but it looks like he is going to be dropped again.
If he is left out, I don’t think it will damage him because he’s a tough character. It would tell me more about Steve Borthwick than about Marcus. It could show that he is uncertain about what he is doing as a coach, or that he has a lack of compassion for individuals. That’s just how I view it.
The right call would have been to give Marcus another chance. Borthwick made the decision last week to go with him, so I really thought he should be backed and given the next four or five games, leading up to the World Cup.
By the end of that period, England could be really singing, dancing and playing to his theme tune. If they put the right pieces around him, he can get the whole team buzzing. It didn’t work out against France but there is still so much exciting potential.
Instead, Owen Farrell is coming back at 10, but we all know exactly how it’s going to look if either Farrell or George Ford start. Borthwick knows that too.
They are both very good players, but for me the ceiling is slightly higher with Marcus, so as the coach I would want to see what that looks like. If Borthwick drops him again, that’s more big headlines. The coaches can have a chat with Marcus and say: ‘We’re looking to go in this other direction because we feel it will suit the tactics’ — but you know exactly what the fanfare and the spin on it is going to be.
You’ve got to be super confident as a coach that the player you’re speaking to and leaving out can handle all that.
It might make Marcus go back and play even better at his club. Any time there was any adversity or controversy around me, I’d get the bit between my teeth. I think he’s got that grit about him too.
He feels a responsibility to bring people into rugby and help grow the game. The fact that he even thinks like that shows his heart and the fight he’s got in him.
Of course players are going to get dropped, but you also can’t throw people to the wolves without any weapons. Marcus has individual weapons as he is surrounded by great players, but he needs other weapons like great set-piece moves that England can score off. There are a few plays off mauls or scrums that can almost guarantee big line-breaks and tries, but they haven’t implemented them. I’m not sure why.
All the players need an attacking framework and a strong understanding of what they’re doing. They all need to have trust and confidence in the system, so they can be the best version of themselves without worrying about where to be all the time.
England are obviously focused on other areas in training — I guess set piece and kicking strategy. From the way they played last weekend, it looks like attacking structure and shape has not been their main focus. I didn’t see a team who looked like they knew exactly what they were doing.
We all want to see Marcus playing at the line with options all around him and the ability to roam, kick and pass at any point.
You can’t just have one player with that mindset, or two or three — you need to have a whole team with the same mindset. England don’t have that at the moment.
They still have a bit of an Eddie Jones hangover because there wasn’t a huge amount of game understanding in his era.
I would have gone with Henry Slade at 12 in Dublin and Manu Tuilagi at 13. They might line up the other way round, but it is still important for England to get Manu running in those wider channels where he can be more destructive and he’s away from back-rowers. I don’t want him running at Josh van der Flier on Saturday. He can do that all day, and he could win that physical battle, but I’d much rather he was running wider and forcing defenders to make decisions.
If Manu is in that 13 channel, he forces defenders to make a double read, with a player out the back and Manu running short.
It means they can’t set their feet ready for Manu, which is a problem, because he’s probably going to barrel through them.
On the back of that, as the 10, you can aim long grubber kicks into the corner or put the ball high towards Anthony Watson or Freddie Steward. If it’s going right to left, you can sweep back and put the ball behind the blindside winger, which will find grass and make time for people to chase, then you have momentum.
At times you’ve got to just kick the ball long. It can give good relief to your forwards if they are under pressure. They can get behind it and start hitting things. I know it’s not sexy rugby, but Farrell will know that playing that way is the best chance for England to cause an upset.