England’s chief coach Steve Borthwick has put his reputation on the line with a remarkable selection decision ahead of Saturday’s crucial match against France.
Borthwick has chosen Marcus Smith at fly-half in place of dropped England captain Owen Farrell for the match at Twickenham.
It will be the first time Farrell, a veteran of more than a hundred Tests, has been omitted from a full-strength England side since the opening match of the 2015 World Cup.
Smith was the starting fly-half, with Farrell at inside centre, for Borthwick’s first game in charge, a 29-23 tournament-opening defeat by Scotland at Twickenham.
Farrell was then restored to the No 10 shirt for the subsequent wins over Italy and Wales.
But Borthwick had no hesitation: “I want to pick a team that is specific to the game against the opposition that we’re playing.
“I feel that this is the right blend,” he added of a side in which Smith is the only change to the starting XV that defeated Wales 20-10 in Cardiff two weeks ago.
Italy and Wales in clash for wooden spoon
Italy are in the uncommon position of being favourites for a Six Nations match as they host troubled Wales in Rome on Saturday, battling to avoid yet another Six Nations wooden spoon.
Kieran Crowley’s young side have lost all three of their matches in this year’s tournament but have impressed on each occasion, running holders France and Grand Slam-chasing Ireland close on home turf.
They face a winless Wales side that has now lost 12 times in 15 matches.
Best Scotland team in decades
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton brushed aside talk of destiny on Thursday as the world’s top-ranked team prepare to take another step towards a possible Grand Slam in their Sunday Six Nations clash against Scotland.
Andy Farrell’s men will travel to Edinburgh with their hopes for a clean sweep still intact, thanks to bonus-point wins over Wales, France and Italy.
Fly-half Sexton, who sat out last month’s win in Italy with a groin strain, said Ireland were “privileged” to be vying for a first Grand Slam since 2018.
“Every team comes into this competition wanting to win a Grand Slam, wanting to win a championship and that’s why it’s so important to get off to a good start because it keeps everything alive,” he said.
“Every team goes in with those aspirations.
“We still have them in our grasp so we obviously acknowledge and talk about it and make sure that we deal with the pressure that comes with that, but it’s a privileged position to be going for it.”
Sexton said he felt he was preparing to face arguably the best Scotland team of the Six Nations era after declaring himself fit for Sunday’s match at Murrayfield.
Ireland have dominated matches against the Scots in recent years, winning 11 of the past 12 meetings.
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