Marcus Smith set for first England start at full-back against Chile in World Cup
Smith has filled the position as a second-half replacement in the last four Tests, adding an extra playmaker to the backline and providing a dynamic counter-attacking threat.
The Harlequins fly-half is now poised to make his first start at 15 as Steve Borthwick takes the opportunity to rotate his squad against the weakest opposition of England’s group campaign.
Owen Farrell has completed his four-match suspension for a dangerous tackle and is ready to make his first appearance since the illegal challenge against Wales on August 12.
Farrell is set to be reinstated at fly-half and resume as captain when Borthwick names his team for the Lille showdown on Thursday evening.
Additional changes will see hooker Theo Dan start and lock David Ribbans and flanker Jack Willis make their World Cup debuts as part of a revamped 23 that will enable many of England’s frontline stars to be rested.
Willis has been competing for a spot in the ultra-competitive back row, but so far Courtney Lawes, Ben Earl, Tom Curry, Lewis Ludlam and Bill Vunipola have commanded all the game-time.
Those overlooked for selection for the victories against Argentina and Japan have been forced to complete gruelling extra training sessions, but Willis insists there has been no sense of grievance among those waiting for their opportunity.
“I don’t feel we’re a group that would let that happen, I honestly don’t. There’s no resentment towards the players that are playing,” Willis said.
“We want the team to be successful. We want to get as far as we can in this tournament, no matter whether you’re starting, on the bench, travelling reserve or not involved; you want the best for the team.”
Reflecting on his own position, the 26-year-old Toulouse flanker said: “We all know how competitive the back row is.
“I don’t think anyone of us would feel aggrieved because of the quality in the back row. I think we all bring different strengths and qualities. Depending on the opposition that can change.
“I’ve got to keep my head down and keep working hard, making sure I’m in the best shape physically I can be so that when that opportunity comes I can come out the blocks.”
Making his first World Cup appearance will be the latest episode of a rollercoaster 12 months for Willis, who was forced to leave Wasps when they entered administration and then join Toulouse.
He now has a Top 14 title winners medal to his name and is ready to realise a boyhood dream.
“If and when that chance comes you end up reflecting a little bit, thinking back to the little lad who was watching World Cup matches with his dad and his brother in the front lounge and trying to realise how special it is to be pulling on that shirt and running out at a World Cup.
“Steve Borthwick did say when the squad was named that it was in the low hundreds of how many people had pulled on a World Cup jersey for England.
“Sometimes you don’t think about that, how few people get the opportunity to do it and how special it is. Just be grateful of every moment and try and maximise it.”
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