Steve Borthwick was willing belittle the decision but the magnitude of what he just did could not be denied – both for the moment and for what progress could mean.

Captain, half the flight, the heartbeat of the team, and the previously unbreakable Owen Farrell had been dropped. And not for a midweek tour game, a World Cup warm-up game, or an international fall game against a second-tier team, but for a real, live, important game. Six Nations competition. a fixture against second best team in the world where in a championship England – at least on paper – he’s still alive in the title race.

Since 2015, during what appeared to be a World Cup campaign fiasco, Farrell had not started a meaningful international game when appropriate. He never fell during Eddie Jones’ reign of seven years, but in just the fourth game of Borthiwck’s tenure, finds himself on the bench against France this weekend.

marcus smith – the man she’s married to convict Smith and Farrell on the 10-12 axis Towards the end of the Jones era – starting at number 10 instead, Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade continue their burgeoning center partnership and support Ellis Genge. He will captain England for the first time. Farrell will have to deal with a new role coming out of the bench.

After getting over the initial shock of England’s loyal captain’s first relegation in eight years, the decision has logic and Borthwick was certainly keen to downplay greater significance beyond his game plan to beat Les Bleus on Saturday.

“I continue to choose a team specific to the game plan we want to play against the opponent,” the England coach said. “I review the game plan we want to play, the specific tactics we want to play against opponents, and the strengths they have. I tried to choose the right team for that match, I don’t think how it will be perceived from the outside.

“I think the right mix against this opponent is Marcus on the court at the beginning of the game and Owen at the end. I take every election decision incredibly seriously. My job is to pick the right person to start with and then pick the right person to come out of the bench.

“I’m looking at the game against France and Ellis Genge will be the captain of the team. When Owen took the field, I told him he would captain the team. Owen was great. He leads the team no matter what role he plays. This week has been incredible.”

The decision to choose Smith over Farrell dominated the formation of the France game

(PA Wire)

As Borthwick hinted, Farrell will come out of the bench and replace Smith, perhaps around the 60th minute all things being equal. For an hour you still have Smith’s agile, creative power, but Farrell’s masterful instincts and accumulated cunning experience with over 100 caps are there to finish the game, and this can be vital if the competition is close.

England want Farrell on the pitch when the critical moment comes, so Smith was limited to just a 14-second, pointless cameo from the bench against Wales last time. Until the Harlequins star honed his Saracens teammate’s game management skills, it doesn’t sound like a legitimate option as a backup if things get tough.

But against France it made sense from the start. Les Bleus has a very large, dominant herd, but they are dormant, which creates areas for the more volatile, more agile Smith to exploit. Follow him for the Quins and he’s a high-stepping, hitchhiking, athletic number 10, always looking for a half-space to slide through.

Similarly, France hits more — and farther — than any other team in the Six Nations. Farrell flies better with his boot from open play but realistically, England still lose this fight, while his 24-year-old rival is a more explosive option to join the back three to strike deep and repel them. Just like Antoine Dupont would do for Fabien Galthie’s men. This means England’s #9 Jack van Poortvliet should play Danny Care’s role as a semi-offensive at Harlequins, easing the pressure on the man outside with his own boxing kicks and out kicks, but Wales It performed well overall against .

France is famous for its aggressive, blitz defense under legendary defensive coach Shaun Edwards, and while that can be daunting, players rushing out of the defensive line to strike a dominant strike leave gaps to exploit. Smith has a clumsy athleticism to dodge the first man and make the most of that space or put a series of chips and jerks behind him to keep the defense turning.

France are physically dominant players under the supervision of defensive coach Shaun Edwards.

(AFP via Getty Images)

England’s set-piece play has also improved under Borthwick, with some of their attempts so far in the Six Nations coming from line-ups, while Anthony Watson’s score against Wales kicked off with a perfectly executed attack that delivered a hit play. Having Smith on channel 10 increases the number of hit games where you can dodge the set ball given the greater ball-handling threat from Farrell. With his outside midfield partnership Lawrence and Slade, he also has a strong 12-year-old wounder and a 13-year-old secondary quarterback, so everything won’t have to come halfway – it’s the perfect combination.

Smith isn’t as good a defender as Farrell, and with the mighty Jonathan Danty recovering from injury to start in France’s home centre, expect Number 10 to be targeted by the man who is almost five stones heavier than himself. On the Defense 10 channel he will likely need assistance from a back rower like Alex Dombrandt or Jack Willis, and the responsibility for ensuring the setup allows it will be on England’s defense coach Kevin Sinfield.

It’s not a risk-free plan, but Borthwick rolled the dice in the first half. The easy thing to do was stick with the trusty Farrell and not break the status quo despite the 31-year-old’s kick-ass challenge in this championship – his record currently sits at an unacceptable 47 percent. Other than that aspect in the last two games, he’s been pretty solid, if not outstanding. Instead, the new coach delivered a clear and important message – no one’s job is guaranteed, no one can be let go, no one is above the team.

Owen Farrell struggled to get off the tee in this Six Nations

(Getty Images)

Unlike its predecessor, Borthwick doesn’t play games at press conferences and you can usually take his word for it. So when Farrell comes out of the bench at some point in the game and says he’s going to take the captain’s armband, it’s a sure bet it will happen. Similarly, he earned the right to be believed when he said that the decision was made only for the France game and not as a definitive change of guard going forward – even if many see it that way, considering Smith is seven years younger than he is. Farrell.

There is a saying in American football that “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none”, implying that you can’t go anywhere without a reliable, guaranteed #1 first player. The fly half is rugby’s most comparable position to the QB, and no matter what the opponent, it’s Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, Italy’s Paolo Garbis or Scotland’s Finn Russell (now the head coach has straddled Gregor Townsend) It’s definitely hard to imagine quitting.

However, Borthwick chose to play the matchups and chose Smith this weekend, pushing his chips to the middle of the table. It’s the biggest call of his mandate so far, but it’s the right one, at least for now. Only time will tell how long this feeling will last.