Marcus Smith to start against Wales in Rugby World Cup audition

Marcus Smith of England sprints during the England training session held at Pennyhill Park on July 31, 2023 in Bagshot, England

Marcus Smith’s X-factor could get him into Steve Borthwick’s plans for the upcoming World Cup – Getty Images/Warren Little

Marcus Smith is expected to be handed the first opportunity to demonstrate why he is worth his place in England’s World Cup squad by returning to the starting XV to face Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Smith, who last started for England in the 53-10 defeat by France in March, is set to resume his half-back partnership with Harlequins team-mate Danny Care, with Ellis Genge likely to captain the side in Owen Farrell’s absence.

The 24-year-old Smith will look to make amends against Warren Gatland’s side at the Principality Stadium and a commanding performance will cement his place as one of three fly-halves, along with Farrell and George Ford, when Steve Borthwick names his 33-man squad on Monday.

Smith, who was earmarked by former England head coach Eddie Jones as the side’s future playmaker, appeared to have fallen behind Farrell and Ford in the fly-half pecking order.

But he is understood to have trained impressively during the summer training camps and is seen as a player who can still have an influential role in the World Cup campaign by bringing a point of difference to the side’s attack.

Given that Farrell and Ford both started the Premiership final at the end of May, there is also logic in giving Smith a start in what is the first of four World Cup warm-up matches before the opening game of the tournament against Argentina on September 9.

Jones took only two fly-halves to the World Cup in Japan four years ago, and Smith’s selection would likely involve a player missing out either in the back row or back three but the rationale is that his X-factor and learning experience for future campaigns justify the selection.

Smith and Care last started for England in the third Test victory over Australia on the tour Down Under in July last year, when the Harlequins fly-half’s breakaway try clinched a 21-17 win. It was less memorable for Care however who was substituted after just 36 minutes by Jones.

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