Marcus Smith released from England squad but George Ford retained

Marcus Smith walks out onto the Twickenham pitch - Getty Images/Paul Harding
Marcus Smith walks out onto the Twickenham pitch - Getty Images/Paul Harding

Steve Borthwick has insisted Marcus Smith will benefit more from “game time” with his club Harlequins on Saturday as he defended his decision to omit the England fly-half from this week’s national training camp in Brighton.

Smith, who was given just 14 seconds from the bench in the victory over Wales last Saturday and had a brief cameo against Italy, has been replaced by George Ford in the 26-man squad, a clear indication that he will not be in the match-day squad to face France at Twickenham on Mar 11.

Ford, who has not featured for England since March last year after a long standing Achilles injury, first returned to the squad two weeks ago but was released to play for Sale at the weekend.

“I think the best decision is for Marcus to get some game time. George has played for his club at the weekend," said Borthwick. "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 was a step forward for him.”

Smith started the opening round defeat by Scotland but it seems that Borthwick is moving in a different direction, with a return to the Ford/Farrell axis that took England to the World Cup final in 2019 now under strong consideration.

“There’s an opportunity for me to work with George over the next couple of days,” added Borthwick.

“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.

“So on a weekly basis you’re making a decision on what is the right thing for the player this week, to be then ready to play for England. For all our players I’m making those decisions. For some it’s to go and get game time, for some it’s to be in the training camp here.”

Smith spearheaded a famous victory against the world champions, South Africa, in the autumn of 2021 and has consistently been in superlative form for his club but has yet to cement his place in the national side, first under Eddie Jones and now his successor Borthwick.

Borthwick said he had been impressed by Ford, whom he worked closely with previously at Leicester when they won the Premiership title last season, since his return from injury.

“One of the things when I look at George, having come back from an injury and been out for some time, he's looking tremendously sharp,” added Borthwick.

George Ford runs with the ball during the England training session at Pennyhill Park on February 20, 2023 in Bagshot, England - Getty Images/David Rogers
George Ford runs with the ball during the England training session at Pennyhill Park on February 20, 2023 in Bagshot, England - Getty Images/David Rogers

“That shows the work he's done in terms of his rehab there, and recovery from injury. He's looking in great condition. He's clearly a very experienced player. That adds to the strength we have in that position. I'm looking forward to seeing Marcus playing this weekend. When you add in Owen, and Fin Smith who has been in camp and I've been hugely impressed by, it shows we're in a position where we're blessed to have a number of top quality players.”

And asked about the benefit of his relation with Farrell, he added: “What we're trying to do is build relationships across the whole squad, and that's certainly something that's apparent that you need to build that cohesion within the squad of the different positions, the partnerships that are working together.

“The ultimate, we're bringing players together from a large number of clubs, and we need to accelerate the development of them as a team here. And I think when you start looking at the players in tough situations, in tough scenarios and the way they have battled through them, it tells me they're growing as a team, and it tells me they're growing as they work together.”

Due to an ankle injury, Max Malins has been replaced in the squad by Jonny May, with Northampton wing Tommy Freeman also recalled. Manu Tuilagi will train with England this week, too, despite his suspension for a forearm to the throat of Freeman in Sale's Premiership loss to Northampton 10 days ago. Ben Earl and David Ribbans have also been recalled to the 26-player squad.

What do you make of Steve Borthwick's latest move to omit Smith from the squad? Join the conversation in the comments section below