“Opportunity is there to grab this team and take it forward” - Borthwick highlights exciting challenge for Marcus and Fin Smith

Marcus Smith and Fin Smith will be battling for No.10 this summer
©RFU Collection via Getty

England’s dramatic victory over Ireland in this year’s Six Nations is probably the highlight in the Steve Borthwick tenure thus far.

Marcus Smith’s ice-cool drop goal sent Twickenham into raptures and perhaps nudged the Harlequins playmaker into pole position regarding the No.10 jersey.

Sale Sharks’ George Ford did start the next game against France but with the experienced fly-half ruled out of England’s summer tour to Japan and New Zealand with an Achilles injury, Smith could now make the spot his own.

However, breathing down his neck - and with good reason too - will be newly crowned Premiership winner, Fin Smith.

After nailing a drop goal midway through the first half during Northampton’s 25-21 victory over Bath on Saturday, the 22-year-old’s fist pump and shout of ‘Come on!’ was reminiscent of what we have seen on a few occasions from his namesake on the international stage.

But now the exciting pair of No.10s will be vying to take the reins this summer, with Borthwick hoping the duo can embrace and relish the challenge.

“I expect Marcus and Fin to seize the opportunity by producing winning performances,” Borthwick said. “They are two world-class fly-halves. To have two players like that at our disposal is terrific.

“I started George [Ford] in all five of the Six Nations games and clearly there is an opportunity for a different starting fly-half to be playing against Japan [on June 22nd in Tokyo].

“The opportunity is there for that fly-half to really grab this team and take it forward. Marcus is a 10 who can play 15. That gives the ability that potentially there is a situation where Fin and Marcus are both on the pitch.”

In terms of Fin Smith, he may have accumulated just 35 minutes during the Six Nations for England but the way he has elevated his game since joining the Saints from Worcester Warriors shows the trajectory he is on.

“The first time I met him [Fin Smith] was shortly after I took the role,” Borthwick added. “It was in a hotel reception just outside of Oxford. What struck me was just how hungry and ambitious he was to compete at the very highest level.”

Smith - along with fellow Premiership winners Alex Coles, Fraser Dingwall, Tommy Freeman, George Furbank and Alex Mitchell - are all on the plane as is wing Ollie Sleightholme.

The Saints flyer scored in Saturday’s final and ended the campaign as the league’s top try-scorer [15] and Sleightholme is one of six uncapped players selected by Borthwick.

Fin Baxter, Gabriel Oghre, Luke Northmore and Sale Sharks’ Tom Roebuck and Joe Carpenter have all been included, with the latter completing another eye-catching season in the North-West.

“The pace of training last week was higher than we've seen which tells us a bit more about the direction this team is developing in terms of athleticism and dynamism,” Borthwick said of his squad.

“It is slightly different to a few years ago and it’s a different type of team. It’s a new team now and that’s going to reflect in how we play.”

The selections of, for example Sleightholme and Roebuck, indicate this but there is experience there too. Captain Jamie George, Dan Cole and Joe Marler - to name a few - are packing their bags for another tour as is Maro Itoje despite the amount minutes he has racked up this term.

The Saracen has played in 30 games this season and if he is to feature in more than one match, he will exceed the player welfare rules agreed between the RFU, the Premiership and the Rugby Players’ Association.

“He’s a key leader for us, he’s an exceptional player and he wants to be a part of this team in this series,” Borthwick said of Itoje. “We’ll find the best way to ­manage each individual. Another ­factor to consider is what the players will be doing post this series. Someone like Maro has a 10-week period where he will not be able to be involved in any pre-season games at club level."

The fitness of Sale’s Tom Curry has also come into sharp focus with Borthwick selecting the flanker despite him making just one appearance off the bench this term.

Curry has recovered from a serious hip injury but the England boss admits he has had all the right signals to suggest the 25-year-old can hit top gear against the All Blacks.

“Tom is a world-class player. Anybody who watched the Premiership semi-final [v Bath] when he came off the bench will have seen the impact he had,” Borthwick said.

“The respective medical and strength and conditioning teams with Sale and England have been liaising around Tom for a long period. Every report I have suggests Tom is in fantastic physical condition and most important, was the conversation I had with Tom.

"We spoke about this series and this is a player who is desperate to be part of this England team and wants to play in these games. Because of that - and the fact he’s world-class - it was a very straightforward decision.”

England squad

Forwards: Fin Baxter (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Alex Coles (Northampton Saints), Chandler Cunningham-South (Harlequins), Ben Curry (Sale Sharks), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Theo Dan (Saracens), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins), Ben Earl (Saracens), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Jamie George (Saracens) – captain, Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Marler (Harlequins), George Martin (Leicester Tigers), Gabriel Oghre (Bristol Bears), Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks), Ethan Roots (Exeter Chiefs), Will Stuart (Bath Rugby), Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby).

Backs: Joe Carpenter (Sale Sharks), Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), Immanuel Feyi-Waboso (Exeter Chiefs), Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints), George Furbank (Northampton Saints), Ollie Lawrence (Bath Rugby), Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints), Luke Northmore (Harlequins), Harry Randall (Bristol Bears), Tom Roebuck (Sale Sharks), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ollie Sleightholme (Northampton Saints), Fin Smith (Northampton Saints), Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Ben Spencer (Bath Rugby), Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers).