Topsy Ojo column: Marcus Smith can run England show against South Africa with Owen Farrell sidelined

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Golden opportunity: Marcus Smith can shine for England in the absence of Owen Farrell  (Getty Images)
Golden opportunity: Marcus Smith can shine for England in the absence of Owen Farrell (Getty Images)

It may actually be a blessing in disguise for England that Owen Farrell isn’t fit to face South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.

Other than the first game of this Autumn Nations Series against Tonga, he has always been there. He rarely misses Test matches.

The fact that Owen is not fit means the onus is rightly on the other people in the team to step up and deliver — and that starts with Marcus Smith at fly-half.

He will lean heavily on Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade, too, as his second pair of eyes, but now he’s in the 10 shirt Marcus can really dictate things a bit more and put more of his identity into this England team.

This is kind of the more traditional set-up Marcus is used to playing with. He has got that hard-hitting runner at 12 and then a bit more creativity at 13, like he has at Harlequins with Andre Esterhuizen and Joe Marchant. It should all just allow Marcus to run the show a bit more.

South Africa will come for Marcus, they’ll be looking to put some big hits on him, but his ability to play flat to the line, take the tackles and distribute could be a real game-changer for the way England attack.

We know South Africa’s superpower is their kick-chase and that is perhaps why Marchant is starting on the wing.

Eddie Jones rates Marchant as one of the best in the air, and if you add that to him being quick, strong and defensively solid, you can see why he is in the team ahead of Adam Radwan. That being said, I really feel for Radwan not having had more game time.

Marchant wears 13 for Quins, but actually spends a lot of time in the wide channels and his versatility, especially given England have gone for a 6-2 bench split, possibly makes that shift a bit easier.

It is going to be a huge test for him — South Africa are one of the best when it comes to the kick-chase game, so it’s just a question of Marchant getting that combination in the back three right alongside Freddie Steward and Jonny May.

No Farrell also means Courtney Lawes will captain England again and he’s playing as well as he has ever done. I don’t think the captaincy has impacted him at all and, if anything, it has really helped him flourish.

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