The England fallow week training squad was announced earlier today, with some big names omitted. Marcus Smith, Joe Marchant and Caden Murley have all been released back to Harlequins ahead of their ‘Big Game 14’ against Exeter on Saturday.
This will give the players some much-needed game time after being used sparingly by England head coach Steve Borthwick in the Six Nations so far. Despite his obvious talents, Smith has seen much less game time in the England shirt under Borthwick as he did former coach, Eddie Jones.
Speaking about his decision to release Smith back to his club for the weekend, Borthwick explained: “You make a decision on which players really need to benefit more from either being in training or game time. I decided the decision was Marcus would benefit from game time at his club this weekend and having that match sharpness. That is why I decided that decision.”
In Smith’s absence, Sale Sharks flyhalf, George Ford, comes back into the England squad after quite some time out with injuries. The reintroduction of Ford will bring some serious questions about the future of the England number ten shirt, with Ford having displayed some of his best rugby under Steve Borthwick at Leicester last year.
Borthwick was pleased about the quality of his options when questioned about the selection policy at fly half:
“We are not in Test week, we are in a training camp week where I felt the best decision for Marcus is to get some game time. George had played for his club at the weekend, so this is an opportunity for Marcus to go and play. He had very limited game time because of the nature of the game and the decision I made on Saturday, so I thought this was a step forward.
“This is an opportunity for me to work with George over the next couple of days. We are blessed we have got some fantastic fly-halves in this country, with Owen and his ability to play at 12 as well, Marcus, George Ford, and I was on the phone to Fin Smith yesterday as well – he is a brilliant young player, so we are blessed with plenty good options there.
“On a weekly basis, you are here making a decision on what is the right thing for the player this week to be ready to play for England. For all our players I am making those decisions. For some it is game time, for others it is to be in training camp here.
“George has come back from injury and being out for some time, he is looking tremendously sharp. That shows the work he has done in terms of his rehab there and recovery from injury. He is looking in great, great condition and he is clearly a very experienced player.
“That adds to the strength we have in that position. I’m looking forward to seeing Marcus play this weekend, and Fin Smith has been in camp and I have been hugely impressed. It shows the position where we are blessed to have a number of top-quality players.
“For any player when they are playing for their club, I want them to play like they are Test match players. That gives the very best to their club, which is really important to these players and the supporters of those clubs. That also puts them in the best situation to be ready to play Test match rugby. Just get as close to playing Test match rugby – that is the message I constantly give to players who are playing for their clubs.”
Other noticeable absentees from the England squad include Nick Isiekwe who has been released back to Saracens and Max Malins who is currently suffering from an ankle injury. Experienced winger Jonny May alongside Tommy Freeman have returned to the side for the first time since Borthwick has taken over.
Ben Earl and David Ribbans have also been selected to train with the side at the training camp in Brighton, with the aim of both being to force their way into the matchday 23 next weekend against France.
Speaking ahead of the fallow week, Borthwick said: “This week we move our training camp to Brighton as we meet up again after last weekend’s win in Cardiff. The performance against Wales was pleasing in a number of important respects. It was good to see the hard work the squad have put in on the training field reflected in a deserved and hard-won victory.
“Reduced fallow week squad numbers, injuries and our wish for some players to have valuable game time minutes with their clubs means that the squad gathered in Brighton has a slightly different feel to it. We are very pleased to welcome back Jonny May.
“The players and coaches alike are looking forward to another three days of focused training, before the full squad meets back up back at Pennyhill Park on Sunday, in anticipation of our continued preparations for the remainder of what is proving to be a magnificent Six Nations tournament”.