England in an enviable position with their playmakers
SPOTLIGHT: England coach Steve Borthwick finds himself in the enviable position of overseeing a wealth of riches at flyhalf as a returning Owen Farrell joins the mix alongside George Ford and Marcus Smith in the contest to start at No.10.
With Farrell absent because of a two-match ban for a dangerous tackle, Ford has orchestrated two wins from England’s opening World Cup Pool C matches.
He kicked all the points – including three drop-goals – in a 27-10 win over Argentina and booted another 14 in Sunday’s 34-12 victory over Japan in Nice.
For the opening 50 minutes against the Japanese, England were roundly booed and whistled by the crowd at Stade de Nice for kicking so much in a match featuring a litany of handling errors that players put down to hot and humid conditions.
England stepped up when it mattered, however, dominating the rest of the game to rack up a bonus-point four-try win thanks to Joe Marchant’s late effort.
“We’re here to win Test matches, that’s our job,” Ford said when asked whether he had a message for the dissenting fans.
“We want to be a winning team. We want to put everything into it.
“We scored four tries in the end, it was a tough game, Japan caused us many problems, but we’re two from two.”
There was an obvious cheer from the stands when the fleet-footed Smith made his entry into the game as a 69th-minute replacement for fullback Freddie Steward.
While Ford and the hard-nosed Farrell are seen as ultimate controllers of a game, Smith is more of a running, naturally attacking flyhalf who is also adept at playing wider out.
“Marcus came on and was brilliant in that last quarter,” said Borthwick.
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Strength in depth
With the three playmakers available for the remaining pool games, against Chile on Saturday and Samoa on October 7, both in Lille, Borthwick is the envy of many a national team coach.
“You describe it as a problem,” he said of Farrell’s possible return. “I describe it as a fantastic squad of players that I have the privilege to work with, strength in depth across the squad.
“I think a lot of countries would look on it in an envious manner.
“How great is it that we have such incredible depth in quality there? I think a lot of countries would want the quality we’ve got – at No.10 and No.15.”
Ford, who was quick to praise the team’s “belief and discipline” for managing to pull away in the final quarter against Japan, said he was “delighted Owen’s ban is over”.
“I was joking with him after the game because he’s not been allowed on the field, but after that game he’s officially allowed back on the field!
“We’re delighted to have him back.”
Whilst serving his ban for a head-high shot on Taine Basham in a warm-up game against Wales, Farrell has not been in hiding.
“You can imagine what he’s been like in training anyway and the influence he’s having and the influence he’s had on the team in the past,” said Ford, who has often started at flyhalf with Farrell at inside centre when the latter was available.
“Me, Owen and Marcus, as No.10s, we’re doing our utmost to drive this team forward and Steve [Borthwick] will make selections to win the games and we’ll buy into that.”
England No 8 Lewis Ludlam, who scored a well-taken try in the first-half against Japan and generally impressed, said Farrell was “always there, leading the team”.
“He’s always chomping at the bit to get involved whether he’s banned or not!” he said.
“It’s massive we’ve got him back. He’s a massive leader for us and it’s just brilliant, adding to the competition at No.10 which is so fierce at the moment.
“He’s a proper competitor. He’s one of the most competitive blokes I’ve had the pleasure of playing with and against.
“You know he’s going to fight to the end and lead the team in the right way. He’s a massive character around the place and I’m happy he’s back from his ban.”