England name Marcus Smith at fly-half to face Japan

Marcus Smith has won his individual duel with Fin Smith for the right to direct England in Saturday’s clash with Japan in Tokyo.

Steve Borthwick has taken the bold step of naming his team two days early – the first time he has done so in 22 Tests since becoming head coach – as he prepares to lock horns with his former England boss Eddie Jones for the first time.

All eyes were on who would be picked at fly-half in George Ford’s injury-enforced absence and Harlequins’ Marcus Smith has edged in ahead of Fin Smith, the chief playmaker for Northampton’s Gallagher Premiership title triumph.

Marcus Smith was expected to be first choice for this year’s Six Nations only to suffer a calf injury, resulting in Ford’s return at number 10 for the duration of the Championship.

Once he had recovered, Smith replaced his Saints namesake on the bench for the last two matches against Ireland and France.

He now has the opportunity to take control of the jersey in the absence of Ford and the Racing 92-bound Owen Farrell, the two veterans in his position who have previously been present for the bulk of his 32 caps.

Chandler Cunningham-South makes his first start for England
Chandler Cunningham-South makes his first start for England (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Alex Mitchell joins Smith at half-back and there are two more of Northampton’s Premiership winners present in the threequarters in full-back George Furbank and wing Tommy Freeman.

Rising star Immanuel Feyi-Waboso is positioned on the right wing outside a centre partnership of Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade.

Ollie Chessum’s shoulder surgery has opened the door for Chandler Cunningham-South to make his first start as blindside flanker having impressed during his four replacement appearances in the Six Nations.

Bevan Rodd is given the nod at loosehead prop with Joe Marler named on the bench, while Dan Cole starts at tighthead.

Tom Curry is poised to make his England comeback
Tom Curry is poised to make his England comeback (Mike Egerton/PA)

Tom Curry is poised to make his first appearance since helping England win the World Cup bronze final last autumn after being selected as back row cover among the replacements.

Curry has recovered from the career-threatening hip surgery that has limited him to just 34 minutes of game time for Sale since the victory over Argentina at the Stade de France.

The only uncapped player in the 23 is Sale wing Tom Roebuck, who could make his debut off the bench.

England will be playing their first full Test match between the nations in Japan and have been preparing for the hot and humid conditions forecasted for the Nations Stadium showdown with a heat camp.

Eddie Jones (right) and coach Steve Borthwick are facing each other as rival head coaches for the first time
Eddie Jones (right) and coach Steve Borthwick are facing each other as rival head coaches for the first time (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing Japan. We will need to be at our very best against an opponent who will want to play fast,” Borthwick said.

“Conditions in Tokyo mean we’ll need to be accurate, keep our discipline, and maintain a level of intensity in our performance from the first whistle to the last.”

Jones names the first team of his second spell as Japan coach on Thursday morning as the Australian closes in on a significant moment in his career.

It will be the first time he has faced England since he was sacked in December 2022 following an ongoing decline in results, before a disastrous spell as Australia head coach led to his return to Tokyo.

He will also be looking to outwit his long-term England and Japan number two Borthwick, who replaced him as Red Rose boss.