Owen Farrell demotion not based on kicking as Marcus Smith takes fly-half mantle
Steve Borthwick insists Owen Farrell’s demotion to the bench was based on more than goalkicking as he made the shock decision to pick Marcus Smith at fly-half for England’s clash with France.
For the first time since 2015, Farrell has been overlooked for the number 10 jersey, with Borthwick displaying the ruthless streak in selection that has already accounted for Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs.
With England’s captain limited to a supporting role from the bench, Ellis Genge will lead the team in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash at Twickenham until Farrell steps on to the pitch.
It has been a solid if unspectacular championship so far for the 31-year-old Saracen, who has started all three games, but his accuracy off the kicking tee has been an unacceptable 47 per cent.
Borthwick, however, insists that while his success rate of completing just seven out of 15 shots at goal was a factor in selection, it was only one of several.
“Every kicker has small dips and the great kickers always come back and improve their percentage,” England’s head coach said.
“I consider every aspect and you’d expect me to do that. I try to do this job as thoroughly as possible.
“Owen’s been kicking brilliantly in training this week, as has Marcus. There are wider aspects to be considered within this game and gameplan, not simply the goalkicking.
“If you were to track all the teams I’ve selected there have been some pretty bold decisions.
“I’ve tried to pick the right team for that game, I don’t consider how it will be perceived by the outside.
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“Owen has been brilliant, as he always is. He trains brilliantly and he leads this team fantastically well, whatever role he’s playing.”
Smith is viewed as a better fit to execute England’s strategy against France, whose colossal pack provides power at the cost of mobility.
The electric Harlequins playmaker started the Six Nations in the number 10 jersey against Scotland but then had to settle for cameo roles off the bench against Italy and Wales, with his game time in Cardiff limited to just 14 seconds.
He was released for club duty last weekend in a call perceived to be his marginalisation, but having delivered a classy man-of-the-match display against Exeter, Smith now finds himself given the task of launching England’s backline.
“As I always do, I go through the gameplan we wish to play, the specific tactics we wish to play against the opponents and the strengths they have,” Borthwick said.
“Marcus will be on the field at the start of the game and Owen on the field at the end of the game. That’s what I feel is the right blend against this opponent.
“France have a big, powerful pack and they kick the ball further than anyone else kicks it.
“Fundamentally you have to deal with those two challenges because off the back of them they have pace, especially with the way Antoine Dupont plays.”
Genge leads England for the first time on his 47th cap to continue his climb through the ranks that began when he was child growing up on a rough council estate in Bristol.
“Ellis is a fantastic leader, a natural leader and he’s somebody the players follow,” Borthwick said.