England opt for Marcus Smith at fly-half for Japan Test

Marcus Smith will start at fly-half in Tokyo on Saturday
©RFU Collection via Getty Images

England have opted to go with Marcus Smith at fly-half ahead of recent Premiership winner Fin Smith for Saturday’s Test match against Japan.

With George Ford absent through injury and Owen Farrell heading to France, the battle for No 10 was always going to be under the microscope but head coach Steve Borthwick has given the nod to the Harlequin over the Northampton man.

It is the chance M. Smith has been craving and the 25-year-old will now have the opportunity to make a statement in Tokyo before England’s two-Test series against New Zealand.

Smith’s clubmate, Chandler Cunningham-South, will earn his first Test start against Eddie Jones’ side and will slot into a back-row which contains Sam Underhill and Ben Earl.

Tom Curry will be waiting in the wings from the bench despite the Sale man not featuring for his country since the Rugby World Cup because of a hip injury. 

His fitness will be another element of Borthwick’s squad to keep an eye on as will the durability of Maro Itoje, who starts in the second-row alongside Leicester’s George Martin.

The Saracens lock has just 102 minutes left to play on the seasonal limit of 2,400 minutes as per a player welfare initiative agreed by the Rugby Players’ Association, the RFU and Premiership Rugby.

In light of Itoje’s selection, Progressive Rugby, the player welfare lobby group, has slammed the decision. “The selection of Maro Itoje to play Japan is a needless and very public backwards step for player welfare,” said Progressive Rugby’s Professor John Fairclough.

“Dismissing game time limits when it suits because a player is ‘desperate to play’ makes a mockery of attempts to protect players from the potentially devastating consequences of degenerative brain disease. 

“Players will always want to play, but now, more than ever, strong leaders within this great game need to demonstrate the lessons of the past have been learned and any required mitigations are being rigorously applied to protect the future of the players and the sport.”

Elsewhere, Bevan Rodd will start at loosehead prop in the front-row with Jamie George and Dan Cole, Sale’s Tom Roebuck is in line for a debut off the bench with Bristol’s Harry Randall also recalled.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing Japan at their National Stadium,” said Borthwick.  

 “Conditions in Tokyo mean we’ll need to be accurate, keep our discipline, and maintain a level of intensity in our performance from the first whistle to the last.

“We will need to be at our very best against an opponent who will want to play fast.”  

England starting XV to face Japan: G Furbank; I Feyi-Waboso, H Slade, O Lawrence, T Freeman; M Smith, A Mitchell; B Rodd, J George (capt), D Cole, M Itoje, G Martin, C Cunningham-South, S Underhill, B Earl.