England release fly-half Smith back to Quins

Marcus Smith was sacked from the England training squad this week to get playing time with the Harlequins but faces a battle to get the team to face France two weeks after George Ford was included in a reduced 26-man squad which was announced on Tuesday.

Smith came on the field in the last minute of Saturday’s victory over Wales after making another bench appearance against Italy when manager Steve Borthwick stepped down as a double playmaker and appointed captain Owen Farrell as his assistant.

Smith was among several players released over the weekend during the Six Nations steam week. Winger Max Malins has suffered an ankle injury and will be out of training until next week, while Johnny May, who has not featured in three of Borthwick’s games so far, has been recalled.

“The decision was that Marcus would benefit from playing time at his club this weekend and such clarity,” Borthwick said.

“We don’t have a test week, but a training camp. George played for his club at the weekend. This is an opportunity for Marcus to go and play. He had very limited playing time due to the nature of the game and the decision I made on Saturday, so I thought this was a step forward for him.”

Ford has not played for England for a year after suffering a serious ankle injury in the Premier League final last season, but has returned to action after several appearances for new club Sale.

“He looks very sharp and in excellent condition and it shows the work he has done in terms of his rehabilitation,” Borthwick said. “He is clearly a very experienced player. This adds to our strength in this position.”

England will host France on March 11 and finish in Dublin a week later when they are likely to stand in the way of the Irish Grand Slam and Borthwick said he was pleased with the progress made in his first three games since replacing Eddie Jones.

England kicked off the league with a 29-23 home defeat to Scotland. Borthwick’s side then went on to triumph over Italy 31–14. They dominated for most of the match, scoring three attempts from a rolling hammer, but lost focus in the latter stages, allowing Italy to pull off something of a hoax.

They then played Wales in Cardiff last Saturday where they looked in complete control for most of the game but only put an end to their third attempt five minutes before a 20-10 win.

This left England, along with Scotland and France, on 10 points, five points clear of Ireland’s leader in the Six Nations standings.

“I’ve talked several times about having a strong foundation as it’s a must for any team that wants to build and compete,” Borthwick said. “I think you can see an improvement in that regard.

“I think you can also see this struggle in the players. You can see where they had some difficulty in games, in situations where they were losing on the scoreboard, they were under pressure and the players fought really well.

“We are rebuilding the team and we have a lot of work to do, but you are starting to see some of the basics. I said it was going to be a pretty simple plan from the start and we’re just trying to get the foundations right.”


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