England Experiments with Marcus Smith in Bid to Get Three Playmakers in Same Team at Rugby World Cup

AP Photo/Daniel Cole
England’s Marcus Smith tries to get past Japan’s Rikiya Matsuda during the Rugby World Cup Pool D match between England and Japan in the Stade de Nice, in Nice, France Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.

LILLE, France (AP) — England has a solution to its dilemma of having three top-level flyhalves in its Rugby World Cup squad.

Squeeze all of them in the team.

The prospect of Owen Farrell, George Ford and Marcus Smith playing together at some stage of Saturday’s pool match against Chile in Lille was raised by England defense coach Kevin Sinfield.

We understand the quality we’ve got in that No. 10 position and how we get all three of them on the field, Sinfield said on Friday. “We’ve been training that pretty hard so hopefully we’ll see it tomorrow.”

Farrell will start at flyhalf on his return from suspension while Smith is being tried out at fullback in something of an experiment by head coach Steve Borthwick, who has rested most of his front-line players for a game where England starts as the big favorite.

Ford might be one of those first-choice players now after his strong start to the World Cup, and he is among the reserves this weekend.

It sounds like when Ford comes off the bench, Farrell will switch to inside center to give England the three playmakers in one team.

It’s the selection of Smith — a slippery runner and someone who makes things happen with ball in hand — at No. 15 that most excites. It will be his first start in the position as he looks to secure a place somewhere in the team after being mostly overlooked since the appointment of Borthwick late last year as Eddie Jones’ replacement.

The Philippines-born Smith was widely regarded as the future of English rugby after Jones gave him his test debut in 2021 but his international career has slowed somewhat.

The kid could play anywhere, said England scrumhalf Danny Care, who plays with Smith at English club Harlequins. “Whisper it quietly but he could probably play No. 9.

At training, he’s been brilliant at No. 10 and No. 15 and … as a second ball-playing option, when Marcus and Faz (Farrell) or Marcus and George link it looks pretty special. I can’t wait to see him light up the world stage, which I’ve known he’s been able to do for a few years now. He’s really excited to get out there.

Sinfield said England has selected Smith at fullback, a role that Freddie Steward has made his own, to give the team options going forward, with a place in the knockout stage looking likely after wins so far against Argentina and Japan.

Marcus has been training with us at No. 15 for some time now so we’ve had a real good look at him, Sinfield said. “He’s come on (as a replacement) the last two games at fullback as well so we feel he’s ready.

He’s got an unbelievable skillset; he’s a world-class player and we feel to have someone like that in the team as a second ball player will give us some real variety as we move through the tournament.