Guinness Six Nations 2023 Rugby Coverage

Marcus Smith Starts As England Host France In Crucial Six Nations Clash

Marcus Smith Starts As England Host France In Crucial Six Nations Clash

Marcus Smith starts ahead of Owen Farrell for Englands 2023 Guinness Six Nations match with France at Twickenham Stadium, southwest London.

Mar 9, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Marcus Smith Starts As England Host France In Crucial Six Nations Clash

Marcus Smith will start at fly-half for the first time in this year’s Six Nations as England gear up to face France at Twickenham this Saturday.

Steve Borthwick has made the bold decision to bench team captain Owen Farrell and replace him with Smith. This is incidentally the first time Farrell has been dropped from the England starting XV since the 2015 World Cup.

It comes after his younger compatriot was released back to Harlequins last week to get valuable game time under his belt, having started the previous two England matches on the bench. His player-of-the-match performance against Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership last Saturday evidently impressed his international coach and was enough for him to claim back the starting ten jersey.

In the absence of Farrell, Ellie Genge will take over captaining duties, much like he did under Borthwick at Leicester Tigers last season, and will be tasked with steering England to a crucial win against fellow title hopefuls France.

Following a disappointing loss to Scotland, England have revived their trophy hunt with successive wins against Italy and Wales, the latter being their first win at the Principality since 2017.

Meanwhile France recovered from their round two loss to Ireland with a hard-found victory against Scotland in a match where both sides were reduced to 14 early.

As both England and France have both lost a game, their Saturday clash is very much a winner-takes-all showcase. Whoever loses you feel is out of the Six Nations title race, while the winner will still be in with a shot of claiming the crown.

At the heart of the contest will be the head-to-head between Smith and his opposite number Romain Ntamack. Both are known for their desire to play on the front foot which should make for a fascinatingly open game of rugby.

Another key focal point will be the kicking duel. Last season France kicked the most out of anyone on their way to winning the Six Nations and will look to put similar pressure on the England backfield this time around.

Indeed, with the Toulouse trio of Ntamack, Antoine Dupont and Thomas Ramos all starting, France have a three-pronged kicking attack which is arguably one of the best in the world.

Freddie Steward, one of the most adept players under the high ball, will be tasked with fronting up against this barrage, making for a brilliant contest come Saturday.

Interestingly, Borthwick has already indicated a want to kick with relative frequency when in possession. But whether he continues this tactic with Smith leading the charge is another matter entirely.

Perhaps the biggest concern for England will be their defence, which has struggled in the face of quick ball. France like to play fast rugby and mix up set moves with intuitive, unscripted interplay in the midfield. So often this style carves up opposition defences and England is the next target.

The France team travelling to London remains relatively similar to the one which swept aside Scotland in Paris two weeks ago but there are a few noteworthy changes in the lineup.

Thibaud Flament keeps his starting role after putting in an impressive performance against Scotland while François Cros comes in to replace the injured Anthony Jelonch on the flank.

However, the biggest talking point is the return of Jonathan Danty who has reclaimed his 12 shirt following a lengthy stint out injured.

The La Rochelle centre was a fulcrum for the men in blue last season, both in attack and defence and his arrival will place added pressure on opposite man Ollie Lawrence who has impressed so far this Six Nations, despite having limited test match experience.

Melvyn Jaminet returns to Les Bleus’ matchday squad but will start the game on the bench as his Toulouse teammate Ramos holds onto the 15 jersey.

Apart from the arrival of Smith, England’s starting XV remains unchanged as David Ribbans makes it onto the bench in place of the injured Courtney Lawes.

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Max Malins, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Jack van Poortvliet; 1 Ellis Genge (c), 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Ollie Chessum, 5 Maro Itoje, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Jack Willis, 8 Alex Dombrandt

Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Henry Arundell. 

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (c); 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julien Marchand, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 4 Thibaud Flament, 5 Paul Willemse, 6 Francois Cros, 7 Charles Ollivon, 8 Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Sekou Macalou, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Yoram Moefana, 23 Melvyn Jaminet.

Written by Stefan Frost