The 2022/23 season has ended and all eyes will soon be turning to the Rugby World Cup. England will assemble a large squad, and then whittle it down to a final 33 players to head to France, to compete for the William Webb Ellis trophy.
Of all the selections, the most hotly contested will be fly half. Owen Farrell, George Ford, and Marcus Smith will fight it out to stake a claim for the England number 10 shirt. For the past 18 months, Marcus Smith has been England’s first choice fly half. The re-emergence of George Ford, now playing at sale, has added to the pressure on Smith and Farrell to seize the jersey.
Ford has a wealth of experience at international level including the Rugby World Cup final in 2019. He returned to good form with Sale Sharks in the 2022/23 season after a long spell out with injury. Ford provided a cool, calm influence to help guide them into the Premiership final against Saracens. It meant he would face his old friend and England colleague, Owen Farrell.
Farrell, who has spent much of his England career playing at inside centre, with Ford or Marcus Smith playing fly half, has rarely had the opportunity to show what a fine international fly half he is. This season, he steered Saracens to the Gallagher Premiership final.
The final was an intriguing occasion, and the perfect chance for England head coach Steve Borthwick, to watch his most experienced fly halves play against each other in a high pressure, winner takes all situation. Farrell came out on top with a fine all round performance, and hardly put a foot wrong. Saracens were victorious.
All three contenders have world class qualities. Farrell is a superb kicker out of hand, and from the kicking tee. He distributes the ball well and although he has had issues with his tackling in the past, of the three fly halves, he is the most solid in defence. Mentally, he is the ultimate competitor but previously, this has caused him to lose his head.
Marcus Smith is widely regarded as the ‘maverick’ and is known for the occasional flash of genius. He is the least experienced at international level, and still has some question marks over his game management. He is an exceptional player and sees things that others do not, but he may well find himself in a support role for this World Cup.
Under Eddie Jones, George Ford became the forgotten man. It’s well known that Steve Borthwick holds Ford in high regard. He helped Leicester Tigers win the Gallagher Premiership when Borthwick was the Tigers head coach during the 2021/22 season. Ford's core fly half skills are exceptional, and he has the ability to move a team in attack with ease. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Borthwick were to resurrect the Ford/Farrell, 10/12 partnership, which has previously served England well.
Who do you think will win the race to the number 10 Jersey, come Saturday 9th September 2023, when England take on Argentina in their Rugby World Cup 2023 Opener?