Owen Farrell dropped as Marcus Smith starts for England vs France in Six Nations; Ellis Genge named captain | Rugby Union News
Owen Farrell dropped to bench by England for the first time since the 2015 Rugby World Cup; head coach Steve Borthwick’s decision comes as he takes charge of England for just the fourth time; Marcus Smith returns to starting XV at fly-half, with loosehead prop Ellis Genge named captain
Last Updated: 09/03/23 1:39pm
Owen Farrell has been dropped by England head coach Steve Borthwick for Saturday’s Six Nations match against France at Twickenham, with Marcus Smith brought in to start and Ellis Genge named captain.
Farrell has started all three of England’s games under Borthwick to date since Eddie Jones’ departure in December, but England’s new head coach has made the biggest call of his short tenure so far, having previously named Farrell as his captain.
The decision – which is the only England change to the starting side which beat Wales 20-10 in Round 3 – is the first time the 31-year-old Farrell has been dropped for England since the 2015 World Cup, and it could prove a pivotal decision with the 2023 edition of the tournament coming up in September.
With Farrell beginning Saturday’s Test among the replacements, and vice-captain Courtney Lawes having withdrawn from the squad earlier this week due to a shoulder injury, loosehead prop Genge will lead England as skipper.
Smith and Farrell started together in England’s first game under Borthwick, a 29-23 Round 1 defeat to Scotland, but the 24-year-old Harlequins star was then dropped to the bench for wins over Italy and Wales, featuring for just a total of nine minutes across the two games, and less than one minute in Cardiff.
Smith was then released from England’s training squad for last week’s fallow week, enabling him to gain match time and put in an impressive performance as Harlequins thrashed Exeter in the Premiership.
George Ford, who was retained in England camp during the fallow week while Smith was released, has not been selected in the squad and has returned to club Sale Sharks.
Farrell, who led England to the final of the 2019 World Cup, has struggled to find his best form recently, with his goal-kicking struggles leading him to turn to England legend Jonny Wilkinson for assistance.
England go into Saturday’s fixture third in the Six Nations standings, level on points with Scotland above them and France below.
Grand Slam hopefuls Ireland, who are five points clear at the top, face Scotland in Murrayfield on Sunday before finishing their campaign at home vs England the following weekend.
The only other change to the squad sees the injured Lawes drop out, as David Ribbans comes onto the replacements bench as second-row cover.
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.
Danty returns to France midfield; Prop Aldegheri, flanker Cros start
France head coach Fabien Galthie has made three changes to the team that battled past Scotland at the Stade de France in Round 3.
Two of them are enforced, with tighthead Dorian Aldegheri replacing the suspended Mohamed Haouas after his red card, and Francois Cros called up in place of the injured flanker Anthony Jelonch (knee).
The third change comes in the backs, where Jonathan Danty makes his first start of the Championship in place of Yoram Moefana at inside-centre.
Moefana drops to the bench, where he is joined by the returning Peato Mauvaka, Maxime Lucu and Melvyn Jaminet.
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.