Marcus Smith backed to shine at full-back as England tackle unfancied Chile
England are ready to step up their experiment of playing Marcus Smith at full-back in the belief he is able to perform the fundamentals of the position.
Smith will make his first start in the number 15 jersey in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup clash with Chile having made cameo appearances off the bench in the previous four Tests, providing a lively counter-attacking threat and extra playmaking option.
On each occasion his arrival acted as a catalyst for England with the ball in hand, particularly in Sunday’s 34-12 victory over Japan.
While unlikely to oust first-choice full-back Freddie Steward, Smith has the opportunity to persuade head coach Steve Borthwick that he is a viable alternative.
Borthwick appears to have found an important role for one of the most exciting talents in English rugby and is confident that his dependability under the high ball and defence match his creative skills.
“Everyone knows Marcus’ ability with ball in hand. Everyone knows he’s got a great tactical kicking game,” Borthwick said.
“Having that ball in space at 15 gives him even more time to find opportunities and find more space.
“What we are seeing from him is that his ability under the high ball is very good and he’s a really tough, brave defender.
“You don’t want your full-back to make many tackles but when they do they are usually pretty important ones. Marcus has shown himself to bring a real intensity to his defence as well.
“Having Marcus as an option there is a great strength for us. Given the way he has come on to the field and played in the position, he deserves this opportunity.”
Owen Farrell returns from suspension to lead the team at fly-half as one of 12 changes in personnel for the clash against the lowest ranked side in Pool D at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Borthwick has taken the opportunity to rest the bulk of his frontline stars such as stand-in skipper Courtney Lawes, full-back Freddie Steward, hooker Jamie George and centre Manu Tuilagi.
Ford is not among those rotated out, however, with England’s first-choice fly-half poised to step off the bench in the second half and be paired with Farrell in a playmaking axis for the first time since 2021.
“George Ford has been in superb form,” said Borthwick, who confirmed that Farrell remains the squad’s captain despite Lawes performing well in the role against Argentina and Japan.
“Will we see George Ford and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12? I think that could happen at some point in the game,” Borthwick said.
“They’ve been a great partnership in the past. They have been working together in training.
“They have known each other for a very, very long time and you have seen the way they can work together. There’s a great synergy between them.”
Henry Arundell makes his World Cup debut on the right wing with clear instructions from Borthwick to go hunting for the ball.
“Henry has got a special talent and ability to beat people. Henry is a very instinctive player so I talk about backing his instincts,” Borthwick said.
“If he makes a decision to go, then go. Beat people. It’s what he does so very, very well. He has added other dimensions to his game.
“His defence has really, really stepped forward, his high ball has really improved. He has been working exceptionally hard on it.
“His point of difference is his ability to beat people, so I encourage him to go and beat people.”
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