Rugby-England seek Smith spark against Chile

  • Rugby
  • Friday, 22 Sep 2023

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2023 - England Training - Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, France - September 22, 2023 England's Marcus Smith during training REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq

LILLE, France (Reuters) - Having been touted as England's "next big thing" at flyhalf, then overlooked, Marcus Smith is again the man being tasked with bringing some adventure to their backline against Chile on Saturday, this time from fullback.

Smith has never started a game in the 15 shirt for club or country, but his lively cameos in the position in recent weeks earned him a starting berth in Lille, with regular fullback Freddie Steward rested.

He was particularly bright in the latter stages of the victory over Japan, albeit against a tiring defence, and the idea of him filling the "second playmaker" role, alongside returning flyhalf Owen Farrell on Saturday has been widely welcomed by England fans desperately starved of almost any enterprising play from their backline this year.

"We've had a real good look at him," defence coach Kevin Sinfield said on Friday. "He's come on 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.

"(He has) a great running game as well, which probably lends itself to him having a bit more time and space at fullback. We’re looking forward to seeing him link with Faz and, at some stage with the addition of George (Ford), having all three of them on the field."

Under previous coach Eddie Jones Smith was given a run of games at flyhalf, with Farrell at inside centre, but was never really able to impose the variety of attack that makes him such a danger for Harlequins. The return after a long injury absence of Ford, who drops to the bench on Saturday, shunted him further out of the picture, but it might not be a case of one or the other any more.

"We understand the quality we’ve got in that 10 position and how we get all three of them on the field," Sinfield said. We’ve been training that pretty hard so hopefully we’ll see it tomorrow."

Scrumhalf Danny Care will start a second World Cup match eight years after his first - a dead rubber against Uruguay - and knows his Harlequins team mate better than most.

"The kid could play anywhere. Whisper it quietly but he could probably play nine," Care said.

"At training, he’s been brilliant at 10 and 15 and as a second ball-playing option, when Marcus and Faz 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."

Care, 36, missed the 2011 tournament through injury having been included in the original squad, and was overlooked in 2019. He came off the bench in England's first game against Argentina two weeks ago.

"Personally, I can’t wait to get out there," he said of Saturday's game. "Ask me a couple of years ago, I probably thought I’d be sat where you are asking the lads a couple of questions.

"It’s a dream come true again, genuinely. Representing England means a lot to me, you miss it when you’re not there, and to do it at a World Cup is the ultimate. I’m going to go out there and have some fun, enjoy myself."

Although England are set fair to reach the quarter-finals after two wins, even a third victory over Chile will not guarantee their slot as defeat in their final game against Samoa combined with other results could, however unlikely, see them overhauled.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips in Nice, editing by Christian Radnedge)

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