Steve Borthwick right not to blow up selection after one of the great English victories

Steve Borthwick observes his team during training session

Steve Borthwick placed trust at the centre of this England rebuilding job. He needed to be able to trust his players and likewise they needed to believe in him and his project, declaring his role as one of “half-teacher, half-salesman”.

It was no surprise therefore to see the England head coach keep faith with the players who delivered the stunning victory against Ireland, one that had been building behind the scenes, for their Guinness Six Nations finale against France in Lyon.

This test of trust was most evident in the debate of the fly-half selection. The headline-grabbing and match-winning cameo by a fit-again Marcus Smith gave fresh impetus for the Harlequins player to finally be given the keys to No 10. Smith had been, after all, expected to be the starting 10 for the opening game against Italy in Rome before suffering a calf injury during a training session in the pre-tournament training camp in Girona in Spain.

But George Ford, despite his mis-firing goal-kicking, deserves to retain his place by playing a key role in coaxing the best England attacking display since their victory over New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final in 2019 with his precision passing, which exploited the powerhouse running lines of Tommy Freeman, Ben Earl, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Ollie Lawrence and George Furbank. His understanding with Furbank, another who can step into the first receiver channel, felt like it had moved on significantly from the error-ridden disappointment of Edinburgh.

Having finally struck upon a display that went some way to matching the cohesion ingrained in Andy Farrell’s side, it would make no sense to rip it up just as England struck gold. When the emotion of Twickenham was stripped away, the cold analysis will have left England in no doubt that their display can only be regarded as a starting point. On another day, there are several scenarios that would have allowed Ireland to come away with victory despite England’s admirable front-footedness.

George Furbank crosses the line to score a try against Ireland at Twickenham stadium
England can still win the Six Nations this weekend but they will be relying on Ireland to slip up against Scotland - AP/Alastair Grant

And against a French side finally finding their way after their lingering World Cup hangover, Les Bleus will pose a ferociously physical challenge centred around their 1,000kg pack.

It explains the decision to recall Manu Tuilagi for what could be an emotional farewell Test match for England if he decides to move to France next season. Tuilagi’s inclusion effectively gives Borthwick the same power impact of a six-two bench, but with more backline cover, although the head coach will be praying nothing happens to his two wings, with Elliot Daly filling the significant hole left by Feyi-Waboso, who has been ruled out with concussion.

The only other change sees Ethan Roots replace the injured Chandler Cunningham-South.

But it is the retention of Ford that sends the most significant signals to the squad. The glamour move would have been to insert Smith on the back of his last-minute drop-goal glory. Smith can expect to feature again to spearhead the calvary in the final quarter, benefiting again from the cohesion provided by being joined by Harlequins’ team-mates Danny Care, Alex Dombrandt, and Joe Marler.

But this is a selection that tells the players that the trust in this new England squad is a two-way relationship.