MIKE BROWN: The Premiership final clash between George Ford and Owen Farrell is a test for England’s No 10 jersey at the World Cup… and that’s bad news for Marcus Smith
- England did not have time to develop a wide game for the World Cup
- Steve Borthwick wants his England players to play in big games
- Harlequins star Smith is likely to drop to third in the pecking order
Next weekend’s clash between George Ford and Owen Farrell is close to a test for England’s No 10 jersey at the World Cup.
It deserves to be billed as a headline match-up because how well they play determines how well their team plays. They have a great impact on everyone around them.
The way Ford has returned from injury is bad news for Marcus Smith as he likely slipped to third in the pecking order. Steve Borthwick wants his England players to play in big games and make an impact in big games.
That’s what Ford and Farrell have done in recent weeks, dictating their semi-finals, and that hasn’t been the case for Smith this season.
The Ford looks fresh and sharp. Ahead of Leicester’s semi-final against Sale last week, much of our preparation revolved around Ford. The way he draws defenders to him and puts players in space is exceptional.
Owen Farrell (L) and George Ford (R) have had big impacts in big games in recent weeks
That starts before the game. He does a lot behind the scenes. He has well drilled everyone, knows exactly where they should be standing and running. Just like a quarterback.
He did that during my time in England, running the attack while Farrell looked after the defence.
Ford has always been seen as the smartest attacker but Farrell has taken that part of his game to another level this season. He has taken hold of the Saracens attack and really layered it. They are no longer boring Sarries.
The pair have similar styles with the ball, creating rugby league shapes around them and putting people in holes. Kicking-wise, Ford is good at manipulating the backfield so he can kick into space. He shapes in one way but in another. He finds a split second when there is a disconnect between the frontline and the backfield and he exposes it.
Where Farrell excels is his small scoring kicks. They have been effective for Saracens this season. Both are masters of the structured game, which can be seen in the way Sale and Saracens play, and suits Borthwick’s style.
Smith is an off-the-cuff player, styled in the Harlequins mould. Arriving at Leicester, Borthwick’s style was clear to see. There’s a lot of focus on kicking meters and at Harlequins we haven’t talked about that.
Smith excels in the unstructured game, beating players with his goosestep, but England have had no time to develop a wide game for the World Cup. They tried it in the Six Nations and it didn’t work out.
Instead, they will likely be abrasive, direct and physical, especially in the opening game against Argentina. I see Ben Youngs at No 9 as he is the best at managing the game, with Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence providing punch in midfield.
Steve Borthwick has plenty of quality options at No 10 ahead of the World Cup later in 2023
Harlequins star Marcus Smith is likely to drop to third in the pecking order
As it stands, Farrell is the man in charge in the No 10 shirt but Ford has the perfect platform to make a statement at Twickenham. If Sale wins, Ford will undoubtedly be instrumental and he will be hard to miss.
I think Saracens will be too strong. The sale has many boys in early development. Both teams have a well structured game but Saracens have the advantage when the game is not settled.
Finals were won and lost in big moments and Saracens had big moment players like Farrell, Ben Earl, Max Malins and Nick Tompkins. I back them to win by 10 points.
My England backline: Youngs, Farrell; Malins, Tuilagi, Lawrence, Watson; Trustee