Steve Borthwick throws down England fly-half challenge for summer tour amid leadership vow

Competition: Marcus Smith and Fin Smith will battle to be England’s starting fly-half this summer (Getty Images)
Competition: Marcus Smith and Fin Smith will battle to be England’s starting fly-half this summer (Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick has backed Marcus Smith and Fin Smith to fill the fly-half leadership void left by Owen Farrell and George Ford’s England absence.

The two Smiths will step up to England duty without either Farrell or Ford for the first time ever, on this summer’s tour to Japan and New Zealand.

Farrell has stood down from Red Rose duty and is ineligible anyway now given his impending Racing 92 move, while Ford will miss the summer tour due to an Achilles injury.

Northampton’s three-cap fly-half Fin Smith was just nine years old when former Test captain Farrell made his England debut, in the 2012 Six Nations.

The 22-year-old led the Saints to this term’s Gallagher Premiership title though, dismissing Farrell’s Saracens en route in the semi-finals.

England lose the experience of 203 Red Rose caps through the absence of Farrell and Ford, while the two Smiths boast just 34 Test appearances between them.

England’s 36-man squad will jet out to Japan on Wednesday, before facing Eddie Jones’ Brave Blossoms in Tokyo on June 22.

Tests against New Zealand in Dunedin on July 6 and Auckland on July 13 will then follow, in an unforgiving summer tour.

Head coach Borthwick had sufficient faith in Smiths Marcus and Fin not to take a third specialist fly-half on tour, with full-back George Furbank and centre Henry Slade proving further cover.

Former England captain Borthwick has thrown his full support behind his two fly-halves, insisting his team boast all the leadership they need.

“One of the key balances for a coach is always the space you give the players to lead,” said Borthwick.

“In the past this England team has been criticised for not having leaders. What I have seen is a real depth of leadership which I need to give the space to lead.

"Clearly normally I am carrying three fly-halves in the squad, we carried three fly-halves in the World Cup, three fly-halves during the Six Nations.

“Now there’s only two specialist position fly-halves; clearly that gives them more space.

“There is an opportunity for a different starting fly-half, and the opportunity is there for one fly-half to really grab this team and take it forward, and the other to be a real support and an option.

“Marcus’ ability to play full-back too also means Fin and Marcus could be on the pitch together as well.”

England are preparing for a stern examination against a Japan side led by former England boss Jones. Borthwick’s side will then take on the mighty All Blacks in their own back yard, with the decorated head coach Scott Robertson having just taken the New Zealand helm.

England will be without vice captain Ellis Genge for this tour, with the Bristol prop sidelined due to hamstring trouble.

Genge’s absence dents England’s experience levels even further, but Borthwick is adamant his squad contains enough leaders.

We are blessed with a real depth of leaders within our group

England head coach Steve Borthwick

“You need a group of leaders, it is never simply down to one person,” said Borthwick.

“It’s up to a group. Maro Itoje is a key leader within our group, we have seen Ben Earl’s emergence as a senior leader.

“You see Tom Curry back in the squad. Then there are others throughout the squad – you don’t need to give Dan Cole or Joe Marler any formal leadership title: they lead.

“You have seen the way Alex Mitchell, Fin Smith, Marcus Smith have led their teams. So we are blessed we have a real depth of leaders within our group.”