Steve Borthwick: I will stand by Owen Farrell as my World Cup captain

Steve Borthwick: I will stand by Owen Farrell as my World Cup captain
Owen Farrell was all smiles during a training session on Thursday - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

Owen Farrell will remain as captain for the rest of England’s World Cup campaign with head coach Steve Borthwick providing his unequivocal backing to the fly-half who has completed his latest suspension.

Farrell replaces George Ford for the Pool D fixture against Chile with Borthwick only retaining three players from the 34-12 victory against Japan. Ford has scored 41 of England’s 61 points in the World Cup so far but his place in the team is now uncertain after Borthwick’s vote of confidence in Farrell, who has completed his four-game suspension for a dangerous tackle on Wales flanker Taine Basham.

Despite Tom Curry’s red card against Argentina, England only conceded 13 penalties in their opening two matches under Lawes with 2003 World Cup winner Matt Dawson among those who have called for the flanker to retain the captaincy.

Speaking after England’s win over Argentina, the former England scrum-half said: “I think the move would be for Steve Borthwick to make Courtney Lawes captain for the rest of the tournament. Because he doesn’t get into the team as a player. Owen Farrell is not any better than those players on the pitch. Why put yourself under the pressure of saying ‘I have to play him’. Why would you do that?”

However, Borthwick has confirmed that Farrell will lead England for the remainder of the tournament in France.

“I picked Owen as captain back in June, and have been very clear on that,” Borthwick said. “This is a great position we’re in that we’ve got such incredible leaders. Owen has been an incredible leader for this team, even though he hasn’t been able to be part of a match-day 23. He’s been an incredibly influential off-field leader. The way he has helped this team through the first rounds of this World Cup has been fantastic and we’re looking forward to seeing him back on the field on Saturday.

“What I think Owen does is firstly the example he sets, which is second to none and he is somebody you can follow by their example. Secondly, his ability to harness all of those people (in the senior player group) and bring them all to be influential leaders within the squad is a real skill. I think it is an incredible skill. I think he’s done that brilliantly. He’s a mentor, and he’s a great voice in terms of myself as well, to us and the coaching team in what he gives to the programme.”

Alongside Farrell, No 8 Billy Vunipola, wing Henry Arundell and Marcus Smith, who is deployed at full-back, make their first starts of the tournament. Only prop Kyle Sinckler retains his place with Elliot Daly moving from wing to outside centre and Lewis Ludlam from No 8 to blindside flanker. Ford, who is named as a replacement, has not played with Farrell since 2021 although Borthwick indicated that he may reprise the combination in the second half against Chile.

“Will we see George Ford and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12?” Borthwick said. “I think that could happen at some point in the game. They’ve been a great partnership in the past. They have known each other for a very, very long time and you have seen the way they can work together. There’s a great synergy in the way they work together.”

Marcus Smith (left) starts at full-back while captain Owen Farrell returns at fly-half
Marcus Smith (left) starts at full-back while captain Owen Farrell returns at fly-half - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

Farrell has not played a match in more than a month since completing his fourth suspension for a dangerous tackle and he admits watching England from the stands has been a painful experience.

“I’ve been looking forward to getting to the World Cup and it’s been tough-ish not playing, but it’s been brilliant to see how well the lads have been doing on the pitch and I can’t wait to be part of it,” Farrell said. “I don’t detach myself (in the stands). I’m knackered by the end, to be honest. Especially after that first one (against Argentina). I wouldn’t describe myself as a good watcher. I feel involved, I feel like I’m out there at times. I feel every emotion that goes with it, sometimes even more than I would if I was playing. I wouldn’t describe myself as the best in the stands, no.”

Farrell will be complemented by Smith as a second playmaker, making his first senior start at full-back. England’s coaching team have been developing Smith, who has exclusively played at fly-half for club side Harlequins, at full-back in training and as a replacement in recent matches, and Borthwick believes the positional switch can help unlock even more of his natural talent.

“Everyone knows his ability with ball in hand,” Borthwick said. “Everyone knows he’s got a great tactical kicking game. Having that ball in space at 15 gives him even more time to find opportunities and find more space. I think what we are seeing is that 1) his ability under the high ball is very good and 2) he is a really tough, brave defender. You don’t want your full back to make many tackles but when you do they are usually pretty important ones. Marcus has shown himself to bring a real intensity to his defence as well.”

Marcus Smith returns to the England starting XV: as it happened

06:00 PM BST

Farrell on being condemned to the sidelines

I don’t detach myself at all. I’m knackered by the end.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a good watcher - I feel involved and every emotion that goes with it, sometimes even more so than if I was playing. I wouldn’t say I am unbelievably loud, it’s more the emotion of the game. I feel like I go through it all the time.

05:58 PM BST

Farrell: “We always want to improve”

I’m excited to play for this team. We are in a brilliant position as we stand here and we want to kick on. I want to be part of it.

I think we have played very good, winning rugby. The team has figured out ways to impose themselves on the game and figured out how to close off games, which is a big plus.

We always want to improve, there is always stuff you can do better. We are excited to get into it. Talking about the past, we are trying to deal with what is here now. In the first two games, we’ve figured out good ways to win the game.

05:57 PM BST

Farrell: “I can’t wait to be back”

It’s been tough-ish not playing but it has been brilliant seeing what the lads have been doing and I can’t wait to be back.

Marcus is obviously a fantastic player. Everybody knows what a talent he is. Hopefully we can link up and get each other involved in the game. There are many different ways of doing that and hopefully having him on the field seeing space will go well.

05:52 PM BST

England all smiles in training this week

Owen Farrell (right) alongside backs coach Richard Wigglesworth
Owen Farrell (right) alongside backs coach Richard Wigglesworth - Getty Images/Dan Mullan
Danny Care (left) and Ollie Lawrence both get their first starts of the World Cup
Danny Care (left) and Ollie Lawrence both get their first starts of the World Cup - Getty Images/Dan Mullan
Ellis Genge (left) celebrates with Dan Cole during an England training session - both are left out of this week's squad
Ellis Genge (left) celebrates with Dan Cole during an England training session - both are left out of this week's squad - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

05:45 PM BST

Chile make nine changes for England clash

Scrum-half Benjamin Videla will make a first start for Chile as one of nine changes to their side for their Pool D clash against England in Lille on Saturday.

The former Sevens player won a first cap off the bench in the 43-10 loss to Samoa in their last game, and is part of a new-look starting XV for coach Pablo Lemoine.

Full-back Francisco Urroz will get a first run at the World Cup in a back three that also includes wings Franco Velarde and Cristobal Game.

Matias Garafulic and Domingo Saavedra have retained their places as the centre-pairing, as has fly-half Rodrigo Fernandez, who starts outside 22-year-old Videla.

Matias Dittus is the only survivor in the front row as he packs down with fellow prop Salvador Lues and hooker Augusto Bohme, while Javier Eissmann comes into the team in the second row with Clemente Saavedra.

Captain Martin Sigren, who plays in England for second-tier Doncaster Knights, starts at flanker along with Ignacio Silva. They are joined in the back row by No 8 Alfonso Escobar.

05:42 PM BST

Chile's team to face England

05:38 PM BST

Steve Borthwick on selection of "incredible leader" Owen Farrell

05:36 PM BST

Do England need a big ball-carrier at inside centre?

Telegraph reader Richard Bullard says:

I pray that Ollie Lawrence has a strong game and reminds Borthwick of why you play a gain-line breaking 12 whether him [or] Manu.

FRA, IRL, SA, NZ, SCO and Fiji all have gain-line breakers at 12....I wonder why....

05:32 PM BST

Telegraph readers weigh in on Smith at XV

Richard Bullard says:

Blooding Smith in the middle of an RWC, even if it’s “just” Chile, is bonkers. Even if he’s on fire, he’s not going to start there against Samoa and then in the quarters.

Sharon HW says:

Would Borthwick play Farrell at 15? No, he wouldn’t. But let’s shove Marcus there and see what happens.

05:24 PM BST

Can England rediscover their attacking instincts?

On paper, England’s defeat of Japan appears a convincing victory. For those watching as Japan drew within a point of England in the 54th minute through the boot of Rikiya Matsuda, it was anything but.

Most frustrating of all about England’s performance was their inability to string together more than three or four phases without knocking the ball on.

Their lack of fluency in attack was perhaps best encapsulated by Courtney Lawes’ try, which was as close as rugby gets to a Laurel and Hardy parody.

The ball was first knocked backwards by Will Stuart, then ricocheted off the bonce of the seemingly unaware Joe Marler before it was picked up by Courtney Lawes - who wisely played on recognising that a header does not count as a knock-on.

Despite Joe Marler’s claims that this was a planned move inspired by the “mighty seagulls” Brighton and Hove Albion, one pertinent takeaway is that England struggled with the humid conditions of their late night kick-off in Nice.

Indeed, fly-half George Ford compared the ball to a “bar of soap” after the game.

With Saturday’s clash against Chile taking place in the afternoon in the milder, northern climes of Lille, conditions are likely to be less challenging, and England fans may at last be treated to some much-needed running rugby.

05:08 PM BST

England must figure out how they wish to play

England are already virtually assured of a place in the quarter-finals after their two wins against the strongest sides in the group but victory on Saturday would confirm it before they sign off against Samoa.

They would then have a Marseille quarter-final against Wales, Fiji or Australia. The return of Farrell was always likely for the Chile game, along with rests for Courtney Lawes and Jamie George, and assuming he comes through unscathed, Borthwick will again be faced with the perennial question about how to fit his captain into the team.

Some of England’s best performances under Eddie Jones came with Farrell at 12, outside Ford at flyhalf. Some pundits argue, however, that Ford operates best and really takes control without the all-powerful presence of his lifetime friend but dominant personality alongside him.

Borthwick, like most coaches who have the opportunity, will be desperate to get Farrell in the team, but on the back of Ford’s excellent display against Argentina and decent game against Japan, it would appear that inside centre is where he would be accommodated.

Of more pressing interest for Borthwick and England fans is to see how Smith performs with 15 on his back. Freddie Steward has been an exceptionally reliable defensive fullback for England over the last two years but is not the most explosive attacker. Smith, unlikely to force his way in at flyhalf, is more vulnerable in defence but, as he showed in late recent cameos, can find space amid tiring defences.

Supporters will also hope that, having picked Arundell, England do not repeat their tactic against Japan of kicking away 84 per cent of possession and instead get the ball to a player who has a rare combination of power, speed and mobility.

While England have all but qualified for the knock-out stages, they must use their final pool stage games to work out how they will play against much sterner opposition.

05:04 PM BST

Thoughts on England's team selection?

Have your say in the comments below!

04:58 PM BST

Four Harlequins players in the match-day squad

04:51 PM BST

The team

04:51 PM BST

Smith starts first professional game at full-back

Marcus Smith will start at full-back as Owen Farrell returns as captain at fly-half.

As Telegraph Sport reported, Smith makes his first professional start in the 15 jersey as Freddie Steward is rested. George Ford also drops to the bench to make room for Farrell.

With England coming off the back of a six-day turnaround following their 34-12 victory over Japan on Sunday, head coach has made 12 changes to his starting XV. The only player to retain his berth in the same position is Kyle Sinckler, who England will hope can return to his barn-storming form of 2019 with game time.

Henry Arundell and Max Malins are given their first minutes of the tournament on the wings while veteran scrum-half Danny Care starts at nine with Alex Mitchell rested.

In the pack, Bevan Rodd gets his tournament under way scrumming down alongside Theo Dan. David Ribbans, who was not in the match-day squad in either of England’s World Cup victories so far, starts in the second row along side George Martin, who came on in the 63 minute against Japan.

Jack Willis, who started in England’s warm-up fixtures against Fiji, returns at openside with Lewis Ludlam as his flanker pairing.

Billy Vunipola is given game time starting at No 8 having missed England’s first World Cup game due to suspension after receiving a red card in the side’s penultimate warm-up fixture against Ireland.

On the bench, Jack Walker is drafted into the match-day squad for the first time, while England retain plenty of fire power and experience in the likes of Joe Marler, George Ford and Ben Youngs.

04:30 PM BST

England team to face Chile

Starting XV

15. Marcus Smith
14. Henry Arundell
13. Elliot Daly
12. Ollie Lawrence
11. Max Malins
10. Owen Farrell
9. Danny Care
1. Bevan Rodd
2. Theo Dan
3. Kyle Sinckler
4. David Ribbans
5. George Martin
6. Lewis Ludlam
7. Jack Willis
8. Billy Vunipola


16. Jack Walker
17. Joe Marler
18. Will Stuart
19. Ollie Chessum
20. Ben Earl
21. Ben Youngs
22. George Ford
23. Joe Marchant

04:24 PM BST

Henry Arundell to start?

With so much attention paid to England’s fly-half and full-back selection, the question of who should start on the wings against Chile has gone somewhat under the radar.

Head coach Steve Borthwick has deployed the same wing pairing of Jonny May and Elliot Daly in both England’s World Cup matches so far.

One player who has not featured so far this tournament is Henry Arundell. The electric winger got his first start of the year against Wales at Twickenham but struggled to leave a mark on the game as England kept the ball narrow in attack.

The youngest player in England’s World Cup squad has not featured since, having picked up a back spasm that ruled him out of the final World Cup warm-up games.

With England in search of some much-needed attacking verve, this Saturday’s clash against Chile could be the perfect opportunity to re-introduce the flying wing.

Here is a short preview of what Arundell is capable of:

04:04 PM BST

Two is company but is three a crowd?

Deploying two fly-halves in the England back-line has long been a point of contention. See the ongoing furore generated by playing George Ford and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12.

Does adding a third play-maker to the mix in Marcus Smith, as Steve Borthwick could do during Saturday’s meeting with Chile, risk causing clutter? In other words, does too many cooks spoil the broth?

England have produced few passages of accurate, flowing attack in recent times. There is therefore an argument to be made that adding a third ball-player would give the team more width in attack.

With so much attention being paid to England’s ball-handling errors and obsessive kicking, this could certainly come in handy. But would the gains made in the fluency of their attack be cancelled out by a lack of incision provided by a pair of powerful centres?

Go here for Charlie Morgan’s full report on whether playing three fly-halves together could work for England. 

03:41 PM BST

Smith at full-back as Farrell returns as captain

Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport’s coverage of England’s team announcement ahead of their Pool Pool D clash against Chile on Saturday.

Marcus Smith is expected to make his first professional start at full-back while Owen Farrell returns as captain at fly-half as head coach Steve Borthwick experiments with England’s back line in a bid to re-galvanise their ailing attack.

As Telegraph Sport reported, with England facing a six-day turnaround following their 34-12 victory over Japan on Sunday, Borthwick is expected to take the opportunity to rest and rotate his squad with wing Henry Arundell and flanker Jack Willis also set to be handed their first starts of the tournament.

George Ford, who scored 41 points in England’s victories against Argentina and Japan, is likely to drop to the bench while stand-in captain Courtney Lawes is rested.

Farrell is due to return having not played for England since being sent off against Wales in a World Cup warm-up match on Aug 12. Yet Borthwick’s most eye-opening selection is that of Smith at full-back.

As Telegraph Sport first reported, England first hatched the plan to move Smith from fly-half during their warm-up games. The decision to follow through on this plan will excite and intrigue England fans in equal measure, particularly with Farrell replacing Ford at fly-half.

The combination of Farrell and Smith as a 10-15 axis is reminiscent of New Zealand combining Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett at fly-half and full-back. While this may now appear a potent combination, the decision to switch Barrett from his primary position came under heavy fire at first from All Blacks fans. England’s coaching team will hope that their own experiment takes less time to gel.

On Monday, attack coach Richard Wigglesworth admitted they were considering the possibility of combining all three fly-halves in Ford, Farrell and Smith in the second half.

“It’s not unthinkable but it is about what else is around them,” Wigglesworth said. “If we have absolute runners around them and that is their skill set we want to upskill as many guides as possible to see the picture early and be able to execute things.”

With Smith in the 15 jersey, Freddie Steward is expected to drop to the bench for the first time in 28 tests. Despite the full-back picking up a dead leg against the Brave Blossoms in Nice last Saturday, his anticipated absence of from the starting XV is purely tactical as Scrum coach Tom Harrison confirmed during the week that the squad has a clean bill of health.

Manu Tuilagi is also expected to be rested, while second row David Ribbans is due to be handed his first start of the tournament. Billy Vunipola, who is short of game time having missed the opening game of the tournament due to suspension, is also expected to start.

Borthwick’s team announcement is due to start at 4.30pm. Stay tuned for all the latest reaction.