Smith regains his place in England's squad as he edges out Ford

Marcus Smith regains his place in England’s training squad as he edges out George Ford… but captain Owen Farrell still looks set to remain at 10 for Six Nations clash with France despite his disappointing goal-kicking

  • Marcus Smith was released from England’s training squad last week
  • He impressed for Harlequins at the weekend and has been recalled
  • He still looks set to be consigned to the bench against France on Saturday 

Marcus Smith has protected his endangered status as one of England’s chosen playmakers as the Harlequins No 10 was retained for the France game on Saturday, while George Ford was released from the Red Rose camp.

Ford’s recovery from a long-term Achilles injury and swift recall had appeared to jeopardise Smith’s prospects and that sense was reinforced when the younger fly-half was sent back to Quins to play last weekend. But he shone in a big win over Exeter and that swayed national coach Steve Borthwick and his assistants, in a tight selection decision.

‘We’re really impressed with how Marcus played last week,’ said defence coach Kevin Sinfield. ‘He was outstanding. George has been wonderful, but he hasn’t been long back in the fold. 

‘We have no doubt that if he was to stay, he’d be great for us. But at this moment, the best thing for him is to get minutes at Sale.’ Asked if it was a close call, Sinfield simply added: ‘Yes’.

England captain Owen Farrell is the favourite to remain at 10 against France, but he acclaimed Smith for the way he reacted to being sent away for game-time last weekend.

Marcus Smith (left) is back in the England training squad for their match against France as he got the nod over George Ford (R), with coach Kevin Sinfield admitting it was a close call

Captain Owen Farrell is expected to start against France despite struggling with his kicking

‘It looked like he enjoyed himself,’ he said. ‘He played very well. You only had to look at the game to see how much he enjoyed himself and how much of a spring he’ll have in his step coming into camp this week.’ 

For Farrell, one of the priority issues since the 20-10 win over Wales in Cardiff in England’s fixture has been to sharpen up his goal-kicking. Throughout his career, he has been renowned for his consistent precision off the tee, but in this Six Nations he has landed just seven of his 15 shots at goal, so he has been under-taking remedial work behind the scenes with Jonny Wilkinson.

‘Half of it is over-thinking,’ said Farrell. ‘I obviously know how to kick. I’ve hit some where I’ve missed but have been happy with how I’ve hit them, and I’ve hit some where I’ve been off. It’s trying not to over-think one to another too much, trying not to fix everything and just get back to kicking the ball as well as I can this week.

England v France odds 

England – 13/10

Draw – 18/1

France – 4/6

*Odds provided by Paddy Power

‘It’s about having a whole view of it, so that you don’t overly pick at little things, which is probably what I’ve been doing. But I’ve been in this situation before and I’m sure I will again at some point, so it’s making sure I get back to enjoying my kicks.’

Asked if he has been demonstrating the sort of obsessive streak that Wilkinson was so famous for, Farrell added: ‘I probably have and I haven’t. I don’t know to what extent but you go through different phases. As I say, I know how to kick a ball. I’m just going to try to free myself up to do that.’ 

Sinfield is convinced that the skipper can rectify the issue and re-emerge as a sharp-shooter, saying: ‘He’s working incredibly hard. It’s an area of his game he’s very proud of and he’s been incredibly successful with, over a long, long period of time.

‘It’s been a blip for him, he’ll work his way through it and we’ll support him whatever way we can.

‘He works closely with Jonny and we’ve also got Nick (Evans) – who was a great goal-kicker in his own right – on the coaching team. We all continue to work with Owen, but when you’re a guy of his stature and you’ve got that many caps under your belt, you know what you need. It won’t be too long before he’s back to his best.’

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