Marcus Smith faces being frozen out for England’s final Six Nations games
Marcus Smith is in danger of being frozen out for the last two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations after his omission from England’s latest training squad raised the prospect of George Ford making his comeback.
Smith has been left out of a 26-man group that has gathered in Brighton for the second fallow week having begun the tournament as starting fly-half before being limited to brief bench cameos against Italy and Wales.
While head coach Steve Borthwick has played down the significance of his exclusion, the 24-year-old is the only member of the 23 picked for Saturday’s victory in Cardiff to be sent back to his club.
It places in doubt his involvement against France at Twickenham on Saturday week, but Borthwick insists that Smith would profit from a run-out for Harlequins.
“The decision was that Marcus would benefit from game time at his club and having that match sharpness,” Borthwick said.
“I’m not picking a squad for France. We’re not in Test week, we’re in a training camp week.
“George played for his club at the weekend and this is an opportunity for Marcus to go and play.
“Marcus had very limited game time against Wales (14 seconds) because of the nature of the game, so I thought this was a step forward for him.
“On a weekly basis you’re making a decision on what is the right thing for the player this week to be then ready to play for England.
“For all our players, I’m making those decisions. For some it’s to go and get game time, for others it’s to be in the training camp here.”
Ford could now add to his 81 caps in what would be his first appearance for England since last year’s Six Nations and first start since 2021.
The rankings ⬆️⬇️#GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/jtkxon4jUA
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 27, 2023
The 29-year-old had fallen out of favour under Eddie Jones and then injured his Achilles in the 2022 Gallagher Premiership final, after which he left Leicester for Sale.
He has only recently made a comeback that totals 151 minutes across three appearances for the Sharks.
Ford enjoyed one of his most successful club seasons working under Borthwick before England’s new head coach left his post as Tigers boss to replace Jones in December.
If he has advanced ahead of Smith in the pecking order, he will either provide fly-half cover for Owen Farrell from the bench when the Grand Slam champions visit London or reprise creative axis with Farrell that was regularly seen under Jones.
Borthwick views fly-half as a “great position of strength for England”.
He added: “George is looking tremendously sharp. That shows the work he’s done in terms of his rehab to recover from injury.
“He’s looking in great condition and he’s clearly a very experienced player, so that adds to the strength we have in that position.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Marcus playing this weekend. When you add in Owen, and Fin Smith, who has been in camp and who I’ve been hugely impressed by, it shows we’re blessed to have a number of top-quality players.”
Max Malins is struggling with an ankle injury so Jonny May has come in as wing cover, while Manu Tuilagi is present in camp as he continues to serve a reduced three-match ban for dangerous play.
England’s 26-man training squad
Forwards: O Chessum (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), B Curry (Sale), A Dombrandt (Harlequins), B Earl (Saracens), E Genge (Bristol), J George (Saracens), M Itoje (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton), L Ludlam (Northampton), D Ribbans (Northampton), K Sinckler (Bristol), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Walker (Harlequins), J Willis (Toulouse).
Backs: H Arundell (London Irish), O Farrell (Saracens), T Freeman (Northampton), G Ford (Sale), O Lawrence (Bath), J May (Gloucester), A Mitchell (Northampton), H Slade (Exeter), F Steward (Leicester), J Van Poortvliet (Leicester), A Watson (Leicester).