Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell have not shone on the pitch together for England
The debate on how to play Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith in the same England team has been a topic for debate over the last year.
Former England coach Eddie Jones played the pair in a 10-12 axis. Smith would start at fly-half and Farrell would be at inside centre. It copied the model used when George Ford owned the England No 10 shirt.
But something was not clicking between Farrell and Smith as it had for Ford and Farrell. Steve Borthwick, who took charge of England after Jones was sacked, stuck with the Smith-Farrell axis for the opening game of the Six Nations. It displayed the same results as it had done before and it became a sticking point in England’s attack.
Borthwick switched things up for round two of the Six Nations. He benched Smith, moving Farrell to 10 and naming Ollie Lawrence at 12. This set tongues wagging and set questions on if Smith would be Farrell’s replacement in the match.
Related: England team to play Wales
But when the time came to bring Smith onto the field, he replaced Henry Slade instead. That meant the Smith-Farrell axis was back and it felt like a missed opportunity. When Smith was brought onto the pitch England were ahead, albeit slightly on the back foot. It felt like a prime chance to see an England side with Smith handed the sole keys to No 10. No Farrell on his shoulder, just free rein to take control.
If the Smith-Farrell axis isn’t working well enough to start the match, why introduce it later in the game?
The Smith-Farrell conundrum: What should happen in the Wales game?
This is why Borthwick needs to make Smith a like-for-like replacement when England play Wales in round three. If Borthwick wants to introduce Smith into the game he needs to give him the freedom he is used to at Harlequins, one way to do that is for Farrell not to be on the pitch.
Many will say Farrell’s leadership is an element England need in a crucial and tight game against Wales. But England have a wider leadership group in Ellis Genge, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes (who returns to the matchday 23 after injury).
Smith has demonstrated he is capable of flying high on the international stage and when he and Farrell know each other better they could have a lethal partnership. But for now, Smith needs the same opportunity that Farrell is being afforded at 10. Being the only playmaker pulling the strings.
The Smith Farrell conundrum continues.
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