Owen Farrell v Marcus Smith – The battle to be England’s first-choice fly-half

Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith (Andrew Matthews/Ben Whitley/PA).
Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith (Andrew Matthews/Ben Whitley/PA).

England name their team to face France at lunchtime on Thursday, with Owen Farrell’s position as starting fly-half under threat from Marcus Smith.

Defence coach Kevin Sinfield has revealed that after his captivating man-of-the-match display for Harlequins against Exeter on Saturday, Smith is “in the mix” to be named ringmaster for the penultimate round of the Guinness Six Nations at Twickenham.

Here, the PA news agency examines both players’ claim to the number 10 jersey.

Owen Farrell

Position: Fly-half/inside centreClub: SaracensAge: 31Caps: 104Debut: v Scotland, 2012Points: 1,142Height: 6’2Weight: 14st 11lbs

England’s captain started at fly-half against Italy and Wales, but, despite being restored to his favoured position and not inside centre where he has spent the bulk of his Test career, he was unable to impose himself in either game. Throw in a goalkicking success rate for this Six Nations of only 47 per cent and it is clear the British and Irish Lions star is not firing on all cylinders. Although excellent at committing defenders and offloading, his attacking game lacks the dynamism brought by Smith. He brings steel to the 10 channel in defence, while his leadership and competitive spirit have been indispensable to England for over a decade.

Marcus Smith

Position: Fly-halfClub: HarlequinsAge: 24Caps: 20Debut: v USA, 2021Points: 156Height: 5’9”Weight: 12st 13lbs

Among the three playmakers competing for the role of chief conductor – George Ford completes the trio – Smith is the most potent in attack, both as an individual threat and through his ability to release the players around him. To date his Test starts have mostly come with Farrell positioned at inside centre, but the gifted Harlequin would relish the prospect of playing with the marauding Ollie Lawrence at 12. If given the chance to step out of Farrell’s shadow, he would need to provide the generalship as well as fireworks required at the highest level and, although tenacious in defence, his lack of size makes him a target.