Marcus Smith left out of England training squad as George Ford returns ahead of France clash

Omitted: Marcus Smith  (PA)
Omitted: Marcus Smith (PA)

Marcus Smith faces an uphill battle to feature for England against France after being omitted from Steve Borthwick’s training squad this week.

Head coach Borthwick has called fit-again George Ford into a 26-man squad for a three-day training camp in Brighton, with Max Malins missing out through an ankle problem.

Borthwick insists Smith has every chance of facing France in England’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham on March 11, but the 24-year-old has been released for Harlequins duty this weekend.

Sale playmaker Ford could be in line for his first England appearance since March 2022 after being called into the Test training squad. The 29-year-old has finally shaken off a long-term Achilles problem, and has a big chance to impress in training this week.

Smith will feature in Harlequins’ Gallagher Premiership clash with Exeter at Twickenham on Saturday, with Borthwick urging the 24-year-old to run the show and hit his stride.

“We make the decision on which players would benefit more from being in training or getting game time with their clubs,” said Borthwick. “The decision was that Marcus would benefit from game-time at his club this weekend, and having that match sharpness. So that’s why I’ve made that decision

“I’ve picked a squad for a fallow week training camp. I make the decision on what every player needs. I’m not picking a squad for next week, that squad will be decided as it normally is on the Sunday evening.

“I think the best decision for Marcus is to get some game time. George played for his club at the weekend just gone.

This is an opportunity for Marcus to go and play. He’s had very limited game time because of the nature of the game and the decision I made on Saturday. So I thought this would be a step forward for him.”

George Ford has nine years of Test rugby and 81 caps under his belt and still only turns 30 on March 16. Borthwick worked with Ford at Leicester and has been impressed with the experienced playmaker’s return from long-term injury.

“George is looking tremendously sharp, and that shows the work he’s done in terms of his rehab and recovery from injury,” said Borthwick. “He’s in great condition and clearly a very experienced player, that adds to the strength we have in that position.

“There’s an opportunity for me to work with George over the next couple of days. I think we’re really blessed in that we’ve got some fantastic fly-halves in this country, with Owen and his ability to play at 12 as well.

“Marcus, George Ford, I was on the phone to Fin Smith yesterday as well who is a brilliant young player, so we’re blessed with plenty of options there.”

England training squad in full

Forwards: O Chessum, D Cole, B Curry, A Dombrandt, B Earl, J George, M Itoje, C Lawes, L Ludlam, D Ribbans, K Sinckler, M Vunipola, J Walker, J Willis.

Backs: H Arundell, O Farrell, T Freeman, G Ford, O Lawrence, J May, A Mitchell, H Slade, F Steward, J Van Poortvliet, A Watson.