England captain Owen Farrell has been dropped for Saturday’s Six Nations match against France, with Marcus Smith selected instead for the pivotal fly-half role.
Farrell, 31, will start on the bench, with prop forward Ellis Genge named by coach Steve Borthwick as skipper for the Twickenham clash against the reigning champions.
“I continue to select a team specific to the game plan we want to play against the opposition we are playing that week,” said Borthwick.
“This week Ellis Genge captains the England rugby team for the first time, Marcus Smith starts at 10.
“Owen Farrell will start the game on the bench and when he comes onto the pitch, to finish the game, he will captain the team.”
– ‘Right blend’ –
Borthwick was coy over why he had opted to start with the expansive Smith over the more restrained Farrell, saying: “That’s what I feel is the right blend against this opponent.”
It is the first time Farrell, a veteran of more than a hundred Tests, has been omitted from a full-strength England side since their opening match of the 2015 World Cup.
“He trains brilliantly, he leads this team fantastically well, whatever role he is playing and he has been incredible this week,” said Borthwick, himself a former England captain, of Farrell.
Smith started at fly-half, with Farrell at inside centre, for Borthwick’s first game in charge, a tournament-opening 29-23 defeat by Scotland at Twickenham last month.
But the coach restored Farrell to the No 10 shirt for the subsequent wins over Italy and Wales.
The 24-year-old Smith was released to play for club side Harlequins against Exeter last weekend and he responded with a fine attacking display while landing five out of six goal kicks.
“Marcus played very well in that game,” said Borthwick. “Having players of such ability and such talent to be able to select from is a real privilege for me.”
It appears England aim to emulate tournament leaders Ireland, who played a fast-paced game when defeating France 32-19 in Dublin last month — Les Bleus’ only loss so far in this season’s championship.
The once-reliable Farrell has enjoyed a meagre 47 percent success rate off the tee in the opening three rounds of the Six Nations.
Smith was the only change to the England starting XV that won 20-10 away to Wales.
That victory would have been more emphatic had Farrell not missed four out of six shots at goal.
“Every kicker has small dips and the great kickers always come back to their percentage,” said Borthwick.
“Owen’s been kicking brilliantly in training this week, as has Marcus. There are wider aspects to be considered within this game and game plan, not simply the goalkicking.”
France, who along with England and Scotland are on 10 points behind Grand Slam-chasing Ireland, have not won a Six Nations match at Twickenham since 2005.
But Borthwick said the World Cup hosts posed a “formidable challenge”.
“We play a France side who have been building year on year and currently, deservedly, sit number two in the world rankings,” he added.
Freddie Steward; Max Malins, Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Anthony Watson; Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Alex Dombrandt, Jack Willis, Lewis Ludlam; Ollie Chessum, Maro Itoje; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Ellis Genge (capt)
Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, David Ribbans, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell, Owen Farrell, Henry Arundell
Coach: Steve Borthwick (ENG)