Borthwick encourages Smith to play “Test rugby” for Harlequins after squad omission


After leaving Marcus Smith out of his 26-man squad taking part in a three-day training camp in Brighton, England head coach Steve Borthwick has encouraged the Harlequins fly-half to go out and play “Test match” rugby against Exeter Chiefs this Saturday.

Announcing the squad that met at Brighton School on Tuesday morning before taking part in several training sessions with the Guinness Six Nations having its second fallow week, the Cumbrian opted to bring Sale Sharks playmaker George Ford into camp over the 24-year-old.

Having come off the bench in each of England’s last two matches, the latter a 15 second appearance against Wales last Saturday, Smith has been starved of game time as Owen Farrell took the mantel of the starting fly-half alongside his responsibilities as captain.

“We make the decision on which players would benefit more from being in training or game time,” Borthwick said when quizzed on his decision.

“The decision was that Marcus would benefit from game time at his club this weekend and having that match sharpness. So that’s why I decided that decision.”

Since arriving as England head coach, Borthwick has not been afraid to wield the axe. Others that had previously been regular selections under Eddie Jones have found themselves out in the cold to begin the Cumbrian’s tenure at the top.

Ben Youngs, who was Borthwick’s starting scrum-half at Leicester Tigers is one example, the 122-cap international involved in England’s Six Nations opener against Scotland, but not since that time.

While selected for this camp in Sussex, Manu Tuilagi has not featured for his country and Jonny May has been called up for the first time by the new head coach, with Max Malins missing as a result of an ankle injury.

For Smith, his next challenge will be Exeter Chiefs in Big Game 14 alongside his clubmates this Saturday, before potentially joining the England squad again that evening to prepare to take on France in six days’ time. 

Surely on the lookout to impress at eighth-place Harlequins take on fifth-place Exeter in the Gallagher Premiership, Borthwick’s message to the playmaker has been relatively simple.

“For any player playing for their club, I want them to play as if they’re playing Test match rugby,” Borthwick said.

“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.

“That also put them in a situation ready to play Test match rugby, and as close as possible to playing Test match rugby. That’s the message I consistently give players at their clubs.”

Since snapping his Achilles in the Premiership final last June, George Ford has scarcely featured for his new club, Sale Sharks. Making his debut for Alex Sanderson’s side at the start of February, the 29-year-old has only featured three times for the title challengers.

Most recently starting in the club’s 24-22 loss to Exeter on Sunday, the 81-cap international comes into camp as not only an experienced option, but as a player trusted by Borthwick.

Playing a starring role for Leicester as they lifted the Premiership last season under the coach, Ford will surely be challenging for a slot in the match-day 23.

“One of the things when I look at George, having come back from an an injury and been out for some time, he’s looking tremendously sharp,” Borthwick said.

“That shows the work he’s done in terms of his rehab there, and recovery from injury. He’s looking in great condition. He’s clearly a very experienced player. That adds to the strength we have in that position.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Marcus playing this weekend. When you add in Owen, and Fin Smith who has been in camp and I’ve been hugely impressed by, it shows we’re in a position where we’re blessed to have a number of top quality players.”