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England vs Fiji: Steve Borthwick goes broke with Marcus Smith’s bold selection

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teve Borthwick has rolled the dice on England’s World Cup campaign with his boldest selection ever for Sunday’s quarter-final against Fiji.

The England boss – who is not traditionally a playing coach – chose Marcus Smith for only his second start as a full-back at any level.

Borthwick has adopted a risk-averse approach during his England tenure so far. But on the eve of his biggest challenge as Red Rose boss, he chose to go for broke by installing Harlequins star Smith in the No.15 jersey.

The former England captain showed a ruthless streak in omitting George Ford and Freddie Steward from his starting line-up.

Ford takes his place on the bench, while Steward has been omitted entirely. England show just the two changes from their 18-17 win over Samoa, with Elliot Daly on the left wing and Joe Marchant at outside centre, amid an unchanged pack.

Flyhalf Ford played in England’s 27-10 tournament-opening victory over Argentina, easing Red Rose nerves after losing three of four summer warm-up tests. The Sale playmaker started at 10 and Farrell at 12 in last weekend’s fractious win over Samoa, and was withdrawn midway through the second half. Farrell moved to flyhalf and Smith moved into the backline at fullback for the closing stages against the Pacific Islanders.

Borthwick has now seen enough of Smith in his new role to be confident of starting him in England’s biggest game in four years.

Steward has become one of the world’s most prominent operators of the high ball, with Leicester’s number 15 having started 29 of England’s last 30 Tests.

The 22-year-old was omitted this weekend, however, as England looked to boost their attacking play from the wider channels and their second wave.

Smith became England’s fastest player over 15 meters in this tournament, displaying an acceleration that stunned his teammates and impressed spectators alike.

The 24-year-old’s inclusion from the start represents a tacit acceptance on the part of England’s coaches that they must simply find him a starting place.

The accomplished flyhalf had never played at full-back before defense coach Kevin Sinfield floated the idea midway through England’s summer training camps.

England view captain Farrell as their talismanic leader, and his return to fly-half once again underlines Borthwick’s unwavering faith in the 32-year-old Saracens center.

While Farrell is there, Smith will have some serious work to do in grabbing testing chances as a flyhalf, so moving him up to 15 gives the playmaker a chance to shine and exploit this new acceleration.

Fiji beat England 30-22 at Twickenham on August 26 for their first victory against the Red Rose men.

Simon Raiwalui’s squad will be filled with a glut of players who could reasonably make a case for world-class status.

Fiji have faced a second personal trauma in this tournament, with the death of Sam Matavesi’s father this week. Josua Tuisova’s son died after a long illness earlier in the competition.

Fiji’s players and coaches rallied around the two players to provide support in the most difficult of circumstances.

The Fijians are renowned for their respect and humility, but forwards coach Graham Dewes insists the Pacific Islanders will have every confidence in their chances of victory.

“Fiji, in their day, are capable of shocking the world,” said Dewes, the former prop who scored the winning try against Wales to send Fiji to the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup .

“When we face top-tier nations, if we succeed, we put them to sleep. Beating England in August gave us a lot of confidence.


standard Sport

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