Marcus Smith challenged to show Test quality on Harlequins return
Marcus Smith will return to England camp on Sunday but the Harlequins fly-half must first show his Test pedigree as he faces a battle to be involved in the climax to the Guinness Six Nations.
Smith has been omitted from a 26-man training squad that has gathered in Brighton for the fallow week, losing his place to George Ford who now looks likely to participate in the round four clash with France at his expense.
Coach Steve Borthwick insists Smith has been released for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership match against Exeter to give him game time, but as the only member of the 23 who toppled Wales to be sent back the decision appears to hold greater significance.
And although assured that he will be part of the extended group that will begin preparations for France, he is in danger of being frozen out for the last fortnight of the tournament now that Ford has proved his fitness for Sale in the wake of an Achilles injury.
“Marcus will be back in the squad on Sunday. He understands that. The thing I want him to have is that match-sharpness. That is really important for him,” Borthwick said.
“Marcus is a brilliant player, he can open up defences and I would love to see him open up the defence, put people through space and find space himself.
“He has great tactical awareness and a multitude of kicking skills. He can create space and attack space.
“For any player playing for their club I want them to play as if they’re playing Test match rugby. That’s the key. I want them to play like Test match players.
“That gives the very best to their clubs, which is really important to these players and supporters of their clubs, really important to them.
“It also puts them in a situation ready to play Test match rugby and as close as possible to playing Test match rugby.”
Smith started the Six Nations at fly-half as Borthwick initially persisted with his creative axis alongside Owen Farrell, which was was a mainstay of the last year of Eddie Jones’ reign.
But he has been reduced to brief cameos off the bench since facing Scotland – eight minutes against Italy and 14 seconds against Wales – after Borthwick turned to his captain Farrell to fill the number 10 jersey.
Now Smith could de demoted further as Ford eyes his comeback against France, having been an influential figure under Borthwick when the two won the Premiership title with Leicester last year.
“Marcus hasn’t had very much game-time over the last two or three weeks, so I think the right thing to do is for him to go and have game time and get match-sharpness,” Borthwick said.
“George Ford I haven’t had the opportunity to work with since nearly a year ago. That’s why I’ve made the decision for Marcus to get that game time, which I think is the best thing for him, and there’s an opportunity to work with George.
“The situation, very simply, is we are trying to build a team here and sometimes the role of a player will change. It is within that context.”
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