Owen Farrell will return as captain for the rest of England’s World Cup campaign with Steve Borthwick giving his clear backing to the fly-half, who comes straight back into the side for Saturday’s match against Chile.
Farrell is available again after his four-match suspension and expressed his relief at returning to the side, saying he is “not a good watcher”. He regains the No 10 jersey, with Borthwick omitting George Ford from the starting lineup and handing Marcus Smith a first start at full-back.
Ford has been one of England’s standout performers to date – scoring 41 points across their two victories so far – but he drops to the bench. With Courtney Lawes rested and left out of the 23 altogether, Farrell also resumes the captaincy and Borthwick has confirmed he will continue in the role for the remainder of England’s stay in the tournament.
Borthwick took the decision to name Farrell as his tournament captain early – at the end of June – and despite his suspension, the head coach has again endorsed the fly-half’s leadership credentials. “I picked Owen as captain back in June and have been very clear on that,” said Borthwick. “Owen has been an incredibly influential off-field leader. The way he has helped this team through the first rounds of this World Cup has been fantastic and we’re looking forward to seeing him back on the field on Saturday.
“What I think Owen does is firstly the example he sets, which is second to none and he is somebody you can follow by example. Secondly, his ability to harness all of those people and bring them all to be influential leaders within the squad is a real skill.”
Farrell has not played since his red card against Wales on 12 August and tournament rules dictate that he is not allowed near the field of play during matches for which he is banned and has to watch from the stands. “I’ve been looking forward to getting to the World Cup and it’s been tough-ish not playing, but it’s been brilliant to see how well the lads have been doing on the pitch and I can’t wait to be part of it,” said Farrell. “Ultimately I want to be out there on the grass more than anything. It’s been good to be involved in the training over the past few weeks and obviously prepare the team in the best way we can. But I’m looking forward to being able to play.
“[When I’m watching], I don’t detach myself. I’m knackered by the end. Especially after that first one [against Argentina]. I wouldn’t describe myself as a good watcher. I feel involved, I feel like I’m out there at times. I feel every emotion that goes with it, sometimes even more than I would if I was playing. I wouldn’t describe myself as the best in the stands.”
Smith’s selection at full-back is eye-catching given he has made only three cameos from the bench in that position to date – in the warm-ups against Ireland and Fiji, and the pool win against Japan. Freddie Steward has started the past 28 matches for England in the No 15 jersey but Smith gets the chance in his new position, with Borthwick adamant he has no concerns over the 24-year-old’s defensive capabilities.
“He is an incredible talent who has the ability to find space,” said Borthwick. “We have been working on him as a 15 option – we discussed this some time ago, from very early in our camps together. Having Marcus as an option there is obviously a great strength for us. Given the way he has come on to the field and played in that position, he deserves that opportunity.
“Everyone knows his ability with ball in hand. Everyone knows he’s got a great tactical kicking game. Having that ball in space at 15 gives him even more time to find opportunities and find more space. His ability under the high ball is very good and he is a really tough, brave defender. Marcus has shown himself to bring a real intensity to his defence as well.”
Borthwick has made 12 changes in total: with England already on the verge of a place in the last eight, Henry Arundell, Max Malins, Jack Willis, David Ribbans and Bevan Rodd all make their first appearances of the tournament. Arundell has won eight caps to date and has caught the eye in glimpses but has struggled on his two previous starts, against Ireland in the Six Nations and the warm-up match against Wales at Twickenham.
“Henry has got a special talent and ability to beat people,” said Borthwick. “When I talk to Henry he is a very instinctive player, so I talk about backing his instincts. If he makes a decision to go, then go, beat people. His point of difference is his ability to beat people, so I encourage him to go and beat people.”