Woodward calls for Farrell axe if England are to get most out of Marcus Smith

The building blocks are in place for an England revolution after Eddie Jones did away with tradition by naming a revamped autumn squad on Monday, but there are more tough calls to come.

Chief among those is the fly-half debate around rising star Marcus Smith, and Clive Woodward believes captain Owen Farrell must be dropped altogether in order to find the Red Rose's best formula.

One of Jones' major decisions in his latest selection was leaving out Leicester Tigers ' in-form 10, George Ford, whose previous stints in England white saw Farrell shift to a less favoured inside centre role.

The growing consensus is Smith should be the nation's starting fly-half in the long term, which former England chief Woodward—who masterminded their run to the 2003 Rugby World Cup —considers to be the right choice.

But in order to squeeze the most out of the Harlequins puppeteer, he believes Farrell should move to the bench to make room for a more natural midfield partnership.


"I've been a huge Farrell supporter and still am, but as a No 10, not at 12," Woodward wrote in his Daily Mail column.

"At his best he is a world-class 10 as opposed to a decent 12. There's a big difference at elite level and deep down he wants No 10 on his back .

"So now it is crunch time for head coach Eddie Jones. It's either Smith or Farrell at 10.

"If Smith gets the nod, Farrell must go on the bench. England need a fit Manu Tuilagi — or someone with his qualities — playing 12. England must find a 10-12-13 combination that is going to frighten the world."

Farrell started the final two Tests at centre for the British and Irish Lions when they won and drew against New Zealand in 2017, adopting that role again for England's run to second at the Rugby World Cup two years later.

The Saracens superstar has considerable credentials even in his less suited position, but Woodward suggests his inclusion at centre moving forward would be a move to satisfy a small minority, not the team as a whole.

The inexperienced Smith is used to operating with powerhouse Andre Esterhuizen off his outside shoulder at The Stoop, but Woodward fears Farrell wouldn't offer the same security.

Do you agree that Owen Farrell should be dropped if Marcus Smith is to start for England? Let us know in the comments section.

The majority of Jones' most controversial squad calls concern those based at the StoneX Stadium, with both Vunipola brothers, Jamie George and Elliot Daly also failing to make the cut.

It's suspected the England chief views that group as being off the pace compared to many of their peers following a year in the Championship, though the likes of Farrell and Maro Itoje remain firm picks.

Woodward predicted a big response from 93-cap Farrell in his first-tier return and said he's played "like the champion he is" so far this season, pointing to Sunday's 71-17 drubbing of Bath as the latest proof of that.

But Smith's stock is soaring after he helped Harlequins claim their first Premiership crown in nine years last term, earning his first England caps in July before he was called up for the Lions as injury cover.

"He's [Smith] an exceptional, potentially once-in-a-generation talent capable of transforming the way England attack and bringing all of their enormous firepower to bear," Woodward praised.

"In that respect he reminds me of Jason Robinson.

"He can be a game-changer for England, just as Jason's incredible attacking threat added so much when he came over from rugby league, winning 51 caps between 2001 and 2007.

"As a coach you say a prayer of thanks when such a talent comes along, they can lift the mood and ambition of an entire squad. Smith has that ability."

Sale Sharks star Manu Tuilagi or Exeter Chiefs utility Henry Slade are among the squad's other centre options, while Gloucester 's uncapped veteran Mark Atkinson could make his own break into the XV.

England open their autumn slate against Tonga at Twickenham on November 6, offering a lower-risk opportunity for the Red Rose to experiment at Test level.

But the stakes will rise considerably for the following fixtures against Australia (Nov. 13) and South Africa (Nov. 20), by which point fans will hope for a clearer picture on the fly-half hierarchy.

The stage is set for Smith to star as his England career takes off, but getting in Jones' XV may prove to be only half the battle as the Red Rose hopes to ignite a new era of success.

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