Sir Clive Woodward: Owen Farrell has to start at fly-half if England are to win the World Cup
World Cup-winning head coach Sir Clive Woodward believes that Owen Farrell, and not Marcus Smith, is the fly-half who can lead England to glory in France later this year.
Harlequins star Smith was the preferred option for Eddie Jones, with Farrell lining up at centre during the latter stages of the Australian’s tenure as Red Rose boss.
They also combined in Steve Borthwick’s first match in charge against Scotland, a game England lost 29-23.
Borthwick has since selected the captain in the crucial number 10 jersey against Italy and Wales, but his form, especially off the tee, has been subpar.
There are reports that Farrell could well be dropped for Saturday’s encounter with France, but Woodward believes that the 31-year-old is England’s best chance of winning the 2023 World Cup.
Depth can be a weakness
“If you want a chance of winning this World Cup then Farrell has to be selected. If you want to win in four years’ time, then start to build your team around Smith,” he wrote in his Daily Mail column.
“Having two, or in England’s case three, excellent fly-halves might seem a strength on paper, but it can be more of a weakness.”
Woodward has also urged Borthwick to pick his preferred fly-half and then stick to his guns, whether it is Farrell, Smith or injury-returnee George Ford.
“For the good of England’s progression, Borthwick needs to nail his colours to the mast in terms of who he picks at fly-half,” he added.
“Some might say he has already done so by naming Farrell as captain for this Six Nations and picking him ahead of Smith for the games against Italy and Wales. Today, my choice would be Farrell, too.
“12 to 18 months ago, I was calling for Smith to start so he could get the time needed ahead of the World Cup. Now, that time has been lost. It was wasted by the previous regime.”
Smith is naturally a more attacking fly-half, but Woodward believes that Farrell has the ability to get the backline firing.
Consistency and tempo
“Much is said of Farrell being more reserved than Smith or Ford. That he is, but with more attacking players selected around him like Max Malins, Henry Slade, Henry Arundell and Anthony Watson, the backline can improve, and fast. Consistency is key and even more so if fast ball becomes England’s mantra,” he wrote.
“If Borthwick continues down the Farrell path and is resolute in doing so, then I applaud him because as an international coach, you must have the courage of your convictions with selection. It is the most important part of the job at Test level.
“What I do not want to see is Smith brought on to make a 20-minute impact. Pick and back your fly-half for 80 minutes and make it clear that he is the main man. If there is an injury, you will be surprised how fast the side will rally around the ‘understudy.”
READ MORE: Jonny Wilkinson working with Owen Farrell and why Marcus Smith returns at George Ford’s expense
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